Few modern spirits are possessed with a lineage and flavor as beguiling as southeastern Spain’s Licor 43. The aromatic, straw-hued elixir is supposedly sibling to a 2,000-year-old fermented beverage, liqvor mirabilis, made from local fruit, spices, and herbs. According to lore, the so-called miraculous liquor was discovered after the Romans conquered Carthago Nova (modern-day Cartagena). The drink was subsequently banned and forced into underground production, which kept the recipe alive. In 1946, Diego Zamora and his siblings created a contemporary version, Licor 43, made from macerated vanilla, lemon, orange, coriander, and a roster of 39 other secretly held Mediterranean botanicals.
In Spain, Licor 43 is ubiquitous over ice. But the country’s most popular liqueur is also favored by bar professionals around the globe for its versatility and compelling flavor—an herbaceous backbone softened by notes of vanilla and a kiss of citrus. The Carajillo, popular in Mexico and Latin countries, is the simple combo of Licor 43 and a shot of cooled espresso.
The drink inspired bar manager Charlotte Neitzel of Austin’s Milonga Room to create the Carajo, which benefits from the addition of mezcal and Amaro Montenegro. “We’re an Argentine amari bar, and Licor 43 plays beautifully with that category of spirits, rounding out the sometimes sharp or bitter notes,” she says. “The Carajo has a velvety texture and tastes like a spiked vanilla latte.”
1 1/2 oz. espresso, cooled
1 1/2 oz. Licor 43
3/4 oz. mezcal (Neitzel uses Mezcal Unión Uno)
3/4 oz. Amaro Montenegro
Tools: shaker, strainer
Shake all of the ingredients with ice, then strain into the glass over a large ice cube.
Charlotte Neitzel, Milonga Room, Austin
Whiskey also plays well with Licor 43. Katie Goeller, general manager and beverage director of Huertas in New York City, reaches for Rittenhouse rye for its ability to provide “a high-proof, spicy base that blends perfectly with Licor 43.” For her Excelsior Pass, she shakes the two ingredients with lemon juice and egg white for a more complex, layered version of a New York Sour that’s garnished with a float of fruity Garnacha. “Licor 43 has a slight viscosity and that, combined with the vanilla, adds body and sweetness to the drink,” she says.
1 1/2 oz. rye whiskey (Goeller uses Rittenhouse)
1/2 oz. Licor 43
3/4 oz. demerara syrup (1:1)
3/4 oz. fresh lemon juice
1 egg white
Garnacha float (or any fruit-forward red wine)
Tools: shaker, strainer
Shake all of the ingredients except the wine without ice, until foamy. Add ice to the shaker and shake again to chill. Strain into a glass holding a single large ice cube, then slowly pour the wine over the back of a spoon to create the float atop the drink.
Katie Goeller, Huertas, New York City
When Brian Sturgulewski, partner and vice president of hospitality at Bonhomme Hospitality Group, created his version of a Lemon Drop, he added full-fat Greek yogurt and Licor 43 to give the vodka-based cocktail a “rich, creamy tartness that’s vanilla-forward and herbaceous, while retaining the bright lemon pop of the classic.” The cocktail, now on the menu at Bordel in Chicago, has become a favorite. “Licor 43 is such a seductive spirit,” says Sturgulewski. “But I also love its versatility. It can be used as an after-dinner tipple or wonderful accent, or in a larger amount to give drinks a very pronounced and distinctive flavor profile.”
1½ oz. vodka
¾ oz. Licor 43
¾ oz. fresh lemon juice
¼ oz. simple syrup (1:1)
1 barspoon full-fat Greek yogurt
Tools: shaker, strainer, fine strainer
Garnish: superfine sugar, poppy seeds
Use a lemon wedge to moisten half the rim of a coupe and dip it into superfine sugar, tapping to remove the excess. Shake all of the ingredients with ice, then double strain into the prepared coupe and garnish with a sprinkling of poppy seeds in the middle of the drink.
Brian Sturgulewski, Bordel, Chicago