hierbas ibicencas

When it comes to alcohol, our knowledge rarely extends beyond two things: what we like and what we don’t like. Of course, this could simply be because alcohol is largely considered to be a social lubricant – we sip it at dinner, on dance floors and at celebrations, or whenever there’s cause to raise a glass in toast. This largely superficial method of appreciation means we have a tendency to overlook the stories behind the alcohol, which are often rich in tradition, history and myth. Take the classic Ibiza liqueur Hierbas Ibicencas, for instance. Today, it’s highly visible in bars, restaurants and clubs across the island, however this anise-infused digestif once had a much more sobering purpose.

"in the middle ages, herbs would be macerated in alcohol because it served as both an excellent solvent and preservative"

Though much of what we know about Hierbas rests in the realms of ambiguous, it’s generally believed that monks were producing similar liqueurs since as long ago as the Middle Ages. The difference is that back then, the production of so-called elixirs were for medicinal purposes – herbs would be macerated in alcohol because it served as both an excellent solvent and preservative; it was a great way to withdraw the healing properties from the herbs and out into the surrounding liquid, which would then be consumed as a health-bestowing tincture.

Nowadays, of course, modern medicine has proved that the majority of the naturally occurring benefits provided by the herbs are almost certainly eliminated by the presence of alcohol, so while Hierbas is no longer considered a form of medicine, it still maintains a lofty position in the cultural archives of the Balearic Islands. Older generations still drink it as a daily digestif, as the active compounds in aniseed react with the stomach’s enzymes to aid digestion – there’s a reason so many of the Mediterranean’s local liqueurs use the plant as a base: Sambuca in Italy, Ouzo in Greece, and Absinthe in France, for example.

"each and every bottle of Hierbas is protected by the Regional Designation of Origin"

Nevertheless, the appeal of Hierbas doesn’t only lie in its strength-giving – in fact, its continued popularity over a period of hundreds of years can only be explained by the fact that it’s the embodiment of timeless taste. Produced using a selection of herbs and botanicals that grow all over Ibiza, each bottle includes anything between 12 and 20 plant species, including rosemary, thyme, fennel, juniper, mint, chamomile, lavender, oranges and lemons, and even rue, which was once considered so potent people would wear it on their belts to scare away witches!

Once a flavour combination has been chosen – every family in Ibiza has its own favourite, secret recipe – anise liqueur is added to the concoction and then it’s all left to infuse for a few months to develop in intensity. The process for mass producing the drink is slightly different, of course, but regardless of the outcome, each and every bottle of Hierbas is protected by the Regional Designation of Origin, which means that if you want to call your creation Hierbas Ibicencas, the drink has to have been made in Ibiza, using Ibiza botanicals – except the anise, which strangely must be imported from mainland Spain.

"Philip runs hierbas making workshops on how to make your own according to taste" 

The rich heritage surrounding the drink was what first caught the attention of Phillip Thomas, founder of The Drink Workshop Ibiza. Originally from New Zealand, he landed on the shores of Ibiza while in the process of travelling the world, and attracted by its magnetism, decided to settle on the island permanently. Having trained as a mixologist on his travels (“I was lucky enough to work with some of the best bartenders in the world,” he explains), he was struck by the abundance of wild herbs in the Ibiza countryside and so began a process of his own experimentation.

“I suppose I have what you call a natural tendency towards aromas and flavours,” he says. “I’ve always been interested in alcoholic products and how they were made – revealing the flavours and how those flavours came to be.” His natural inquisitiveness led him to invest in equipment that would allow him to make his own alcohol creations. He started off with beer before moving onto gin and then eventually, Hierbas. “I was surprised by how easy it was to make great flavours with the foraged herbs,” he continues. “I started telling people about it and they were all really interested and that’s when I started the workshops.”

Phillip runs Hierbas making workshops at a variety of Ibiza locations throughout summer, hosting a two-hour tutorial in which he delves into the drink’s history, explores the relationship between alcohol and medicine, and then goes on to demonstrate how to make your own hierbas according to taste – it’s a hands on affair with plenty of tasting, smelling and fun. Attendees choose their own herbs, infuse them with the anise liqueur and then get to take away a stylish wax-sealed bottle of their own creation at the end of the workshop. If participants would like to join Phillip in the foraging process prior to the workshop, that’s also available on request. “I love to go walking in the mountains,” he explains. “To the untrained eye it just looks like you’re surrounded by a bunch of plants but actually most of them are useable – that’s so unique to Ibiza.”

"Hierbas tasting is very much part of the island, only then can you say that you’ve truly experienced the real Ibiza"

While waiting for your own bottle to mature in flavour there are still plenty of places all over the island to taste a sample – it is, after all, an intrinsic part of local culture. “It’s very much a part of the island,” affirms Phillip. “Visitors often come and don’t really understand it but after you’ve lived here for a while you inexplicably end up loving it!” Each brand and private blend is different, but for Phillip the key to a true taste sensation lies in less sweetness, more botanicals. “For me, you should be able to taste the herbs,” he says. “I also find drinking it with white wine is a good combination!” While we couldn’t possibly comment on that, we do recommend that you indulge in a chupito (a shot), or a small measure with ice, after a meal, because only then can you say that you’ve truly experienced the real Ibiza.

Guests and visitors at Seven Pines Resort Ibiza can sample Hierbas Ibicencas at The View, Cone Club and of course, our cocktail bar Pershing Yacht Terrace. If you like what you taste, and you’d like to take part in a Hierbas making workshop with Phillip Thomas, please contact our guest relations team to arrange a day of foraging herbs and creating your very own recipe. Cheers!


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