Sambuca is a sweet anise-flavoured liqueur traditionally produced in Italy.
Browse our range of Sambuca & Sambuca miniatures from Luxardo, including liquorice and raspberry flavoured Sambuca.
It is made from a simple recipe of alcohol, sugar, and star anise. First, demineralised water is mixed with sugar to create a syrup which is then infused with essential oils from star anise. This mixture is added to pure alcohol, left to rest in steel tanks for around one week, and finally filtered and bottled.
White sambuca makers will often stick to this basic formula, while some will add essence of elderflower or fennel seed. Black sambuca diverges from the classic recipe with the addition of liquorice and elder bush, creating its signature dark colour and rich flavour.
Sambuca is generally considered a digestif to be enjoyed after eating. It is commonly drunk as a shot or sipped from a snifter glass, but can also be sampled in numerous, more traditional servings.
Sambuca con la Mosca, or “sambuca with the fly”, sees the liqueur served with three roasted coffee beans that can be chewed while drinking to neutralise the taste of alcohol. Coffee and sambuca meet again in the caffè corretto: a classic Italian espresso that gains its sweetness from a dash of sambuca rather than sugar.
- Two classic sambuca servings supposedly share a single origin story. It’s said that there was once an old woman who was annoyed to find three flies in her sambuca. She set the glass on fire to kill the insects and inadvertently created both “sambuca with the fly” (sambuca with coffee beans) and flaming sambuca
- The etymology of “sambuca” is a contested subject. The name either derives from the Latin word for elderberry, sambucus, or was inspired by “Zammut,” an Arabic drink also flavoured with anise
- The three coffee beans served in a Sambuca con la Mosca traditionally symbolise health, happiness, and prosperity
- Historically only available in white or black iterations, many distillers now create flavoured sambuca made with ingredients like raspberry, banana, or chilli
Sambuca has a more contemporary history than most alcohols as it was only invented in the mid-19th century.
It was first commercially produced in Civitavecchia, a coastal town just north of Rome, by Luigi Manzi in 1851. Originally lauded for its digestive qualities, Manzi claimed that sipping a liqueur infused with star anise would help soothe the stomach after eating.
Sambuca reached wider acclaim nearly 100 years later when expert perfumer Angelo Molinari decided to try his hand at luxury alcohol production. He first marketed his liqueur to the restaurants of Via Veneto before taking the drink to international heights. The sudden success of sambuca can in part be attributed to its reputation as a favourite of stars such as Frank Sinatra and Anita Ekberg, soon becoming synonymous with the La Dolce Vita glamour of 1960s Italy.
Today sambuca is still commonly served in restaurants as a soothing after dinner digestif while its signature sweetness has also caused it to flourish in popularity as a party drink for students.
What is the difference between white and black sambuca?
White and black sambuca share a core recipe of alcohol, sugar, and star anise. Black sambuca then has liquorice and elder bush added, producing a dark colour and slightly richer flavour.
What mixer goes with sambuca?
You can mix sambuca with soda water, tonic water, fruit juice, sparkling wine, or an espresso.
What is flaming sambuca?
Flaming sambuca is a shot of liqueur that is set on fire to intensify its flavour and create an impressive visual display.
To make a flaming sambuca, pour a small shot and light it with a long match, blow torch, or anything that gives your hand a bit of distance from the flames.
Watch the fire for a few seconds then put it out by covering the glass with the palm of your hand. Make sure the shot is completely out before you drink it and please don’t try if you’re already tipsy – drunk people and fire are never a good combo.
Does sambuca freeze?
Sambuca does not freeze because of its high alcohol content; storing a bottle in the freezer will simply keep it chilled.
Does sambuca expire?
Unopened sambuca has an indefinite shelf life and can be kept for many years. Once the bottle has been opened the alcohol may start to lose flavour or develop an off colour so it’s best to consume within 2 years.