Licorice Liqueur

Licorice alcohol is a big part of European drinking culture. From Ouzo in Greece to Pastis in France, and Sambuca in Italy, licorice liqueur has been served up at dinner parties for generations.

In this post we’ll outline the different types of licorice liqueur, their taste profile and the similarities and differences between them. We’ll also dive into how they’re made, and how to use them.

Types of Licorice Liqueur


A sweet and strong liqueur hailing from Italy, Sambuca is predominantly flavored with essential oils from the star anise plant. It has strong licorice notes and is usually served after a meal as a digestif.

ABV: 38 - 42%

A hand grabbing a bottle of Sambuca licorice liqueur from a shelf in a supermarket


A French liqueur, Pastis is made from aniseed, licorice root and Provençal herbs.

It’s a popular summer drink in France where it’s typically diluted in water, turning it a milky white color.

When France banned absinthe in 1915, Pastis fast became the replacement of choice. Pernod Fils, the company that first commercialized Pastis, changed the formulation of their already popular absinthe to remove the wormwood and successfully avoid the ban. The new liqueur, Pastis, was a less potent but equally delicious drink.

ABV: 40 - 45%

Pastis licorice alcohol bottle in crushed ice, with water vapor on the bottle


Made from aniseed, the Greek liqueur Ouzo tastes very similar to black licorice. It’s dry and fiery, but with sweet undertones.

In Greece it’s primarily consumed as an aperitif - used to stimulate the appetite before a meal.

ABV: 37.5% - 50%

A bottle of Ouzo with a blue label sitting on a wooden table



Originating in France and Switzerland, absinthe is a potent aniseed liqueur. Traditionally absinthe has no licorice root in it - its main ingredients are anise and wormwood. It does have a strong licorice taste though, owing to the anise it’s flavored with.

It’s a hard liquor with a checkered past. There was a moral panic about the negative effects of consuming absinthe in the early 20th Century which led many countries to ban it. Stories of its harmful effects turned out to be overblown but the bans remained for a long time. Absinthe was only legalized again in the United States in 2007. There aren’t many liquors that can claim to be as controversial.

ABV: 45 - 74%

Five bottles of green absinthe sitting on a shelf


Raki is a traditional Turkish spirit with a strong aniseed flavor, which imparts a licorice taste. Its origins can be traced back several centuries to the Ottoman Empire. It’s so embedded in Turkish culture that there is something called a “raki table”, which is a social gathering where raki is typically served with chilled water alongside “meze”, or small plates of food.

ABV: 40 - 50%

Raki Turkish licorice liqueur bottles. There are three bottles next to each other with a blue and red logo

How is Licorice Liqueur Made?

All the licorice flavored liqueurs on our list have different production methods based on the type of liquor and the region in which they are made. One thing they have in common, though, is that their licorice flavor primarily comes from being infused with aniseed.

Sambuca has a neutral alcohol as its base spirit and is then infused with flavors such as anise and licorice, before being sweetened with sugar.

Pastis features anise, licorice and Provençal herbs which are macerated (a slower form of infusion, where the ingredients are soaked) in a neutral alcohol to extract their flavors. Some types of Pastis have an extra distillation stage where the anise is added, whilst others add this during maceration.

Ouzo has a grape based spirit as its base and the aniseed flavor is then macerated into this.

Raki’s base spirit is made from grapes, figs or raisins. It’s fermented and distilled, before the aniseed is added during a second distillation.

Absinthe is made from neutral alcohol normally derived from grains, grapes or beets. Its key botanicals - wormwood, anise and sweet fennel are added through a process of maceration, where they’re soaked in the base spirit. The mixture is distilled to refine the flavors and then diluted with water to the desired drinking strength.

As you can see, no two types of licorice liqueur are made in exactly the same way. There are certainly similarities in how they are made which leads to commonalities in how they taste. There are, however, differences in the base liquor used, the botanicals added to the spirit, and the infusion method used which gives each of them their own distinctive flavor.

History of Licorice Alcohol

The use of licorice in alcohol began - like many great drinks - for medicinal uses. Its use can be traced back to many early civilizations. The Romans, Greeks and Egyptians all used some form of licorice beverage to treat digestion and stomach issues.

Licorice liqueurs like we see today emerged as digestifs, used to settle the stomach and aid in digestion after a meal.

Licorice Liqueur Cocktails

Licorice Black Russian

The Black Russian is already an exquisite cocktail - a delicious blend of vodka and Kahlua. Adding licorice liqueur into the mix lifts up the coffee taste and creates a truly unique drink.


  • 1 1/2 ounces vodka
  • 1 ounce coffee liqueur (such as Kahlua)
  • 1/2 ounce Sambuca

How to Make It

  1. Combine all ingredients in a mixing glass with ice.
  2. Stir until well chilled and strain into an old-fashioned glass filled with ice.

The addition of Sambuca adds a subtle licorice undertone to this classic cocktail.

Black Russian with licorice liqueur cocktail in a glass with ice cubes, on a wooden table with coffee beans

Pastis and Tonic

If you want to enjoy a strong licorice taste without the intrusion of other flavors, a Pastis and tonic is a great choice. That’s not to say the tonic has no flavor - it does bring a subtle bitterness to this drink which nicely complements the sweetness of the Pastis.


  • 1 1/2 ounces Pastis
  • Tonic water - to top
  • Lemon wedge for garnish

How to Make It

  • Pour the Pastis into a highball glass filled with ice.
  • Top with tonic water and gently stir.
  • Garnish with a lemon wedge.

Ouzo Lemonade

The famous Greek licorice liqueur goes great with lemon. Use freshly squeezed lemon juice for a satisfying contrast between the sweetness of ouzo and sour of lemon.


  • 2 ounces ouzo
  • 1 ounce fresh lemon juice
  • 1/2 ounce simple syrup
  • Club soda - to top

How to Make It

  • Combine the ouzo, lemon juice and simple syrup in a shaker with ice
  • Shake well and strain into an ice-filled highball glass.
  • Top with club soda for a refreshing, anise-flavored twist on lemonade.

Ouzo lemonade in a rocks glass, with a lemon wheel garnish, sitting on a rustic wooden table

Absinthe Frappe

Absinthe is a liquor that some people struggle to stomach by itself. What better way to enjoy it, then, than in a cocktail with club soda and simple syrup?


  • 1 ounce absinthe
  • 1/2 ounce simple syrup
  • Club soda - to top
  • Crushed ice

How to Make It


  • Shake the absinthe and simple syrup with cubed ice.
  • Strain into a glass filled with crushed ice.
  • Top with club soda

This cocktail is a simple way to enjoy the licorice alcohol taste without the harshness of hard liquor.

Enjoying Licorice Alcohol by Itself

Whilst it’s an important ingredient in lots of cocktails, licorice liqueur is a treat all on its own for lovers of all things aniseed. You can enjoy it neat or on the rocks. Add a little cold water to dilute it if need be. You can even add some soda water and lemon for a refreshing sparkling drink.

Licorice vs Aniseed - What’s the Difference?

Most licorice alcohol is infused with aniseed as its main ingredient, and very few contain any licorice root at all. What’s up with that?

Firstly, licorice and aniseed both have a very similar flavor profile. In its raw form licorice has a more earthy and subtly sweet taste, whereas aniseed has a spicy sweet taste. When infused in alcohol and sweetened, though, it can be difficult to distinguish between them.

Aniseed, being a seed, is much easier to process and infuse into alcohol than the fibrous licorice root. It’s a lot more consistent to work with and so it became the dominant ingredient used in licorice flavored liqueurs.

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