Mexican Miércoles: One Excellent Liqueur to Look For and One You'll Never Find



I recently returned from a short vacation to Cozumel, Mexico, where my girlfriend and I stayed at the same all-inclusive resort for the third time. We like it because it's adults only (not like Hedonism II or anything, sheesh!) with lots of pools, pretty decent food and they serve top-shelf liquor in all the bars. Their sister property next door is also all-inclusive, but you'd be hard-pressed to identify any of the brand names in the bartenders' speed racks over there. Pepe Lopez Vodka?

Now there's always the chance that our resort might be refilling those Grey Goose bottles with Señor Lopez and hoping we gringos won't notice, but I saw them crack the seal on plenty of bottles of brown liquor and some fine liqueurs. I know this because I was the one ordering them. While other guests requested "Miami Vices" and "Boom-Boom Punch," I was taking the opportunity to experiment a little bit with some brands that I don't normally imbibe. If you don't know whether you're a scotch drinker or not, what better way to find out than at a bar where all the drinks are already paid for?

I already knew what sort of scotch drinker I am, that is to say occasional and not too snobby. What interested me were the items that were genuinely Mexican, but not tequila. There are just too damned many of those to effectively take a tour when you're in an all-you-can drink Mexican bar — caveat emptor.

From previous trips, I knew I was a fan of Liqor 43, a bright vanilla and citrus liqueur that is supposedly made using 43 different herbs and flavor agents. The product is actually from Spain, but since it's so popular in Mexico and that's where I first discovered it, I'll always associate them together. Beautifully golden and slick without being too syrupy, Liqor 43 is a wonderful degustivo after a big meal, either straight up or on the rocks. You can also mix with it, but I've been told by bartenders at the resort that they usually put just a splash of Sprite in it for effervescence.

I also learned from the bartenders in Cozumel about two great terms for your nightcap. One is a Mayan term, la hach, which means the last drink of the evening. The other describes a drink you want to to take with you, un caminando, or literally "a walker." My normal caminando for la hach every evening was a double Licor 43 with one ice cube, and the closing bartender and I developed a shorthand term for it. Since I was one of the only folks who actually attempted to speak with my high school menu Spanish capabilities and who actually tipped a buck or two a round even though it was all-inclusive (cheap-ass turistas!), the bar staff was always very friendly to us. All I had to do was stick my head in the door at the back of the crowd and say "Ochenta y seis, por favor." That's 2 times 43.

Since you can buy Liqor 43 in Nashville, it is still one of my favorite nightcaps, although I sure do miss getting them for free and being able to walk along the beach back to the room with one.

My other discovery is, alas, unavailable in town or most of the U.S. for that matter. Unique to the Yucatan peninsula is a wonderful liqueur called Xtabentún ("shtah-bin-TOON"), which the locals refer to as "Mayan viagra." I can't speak specifically to those effects (yet), but I can say that this was one of my favorite new spirit discoveries. Made with anise and local honey, Xtabentún has a delightfully complex flavor profile.

Now I'm not a huge licorice fan, so anise isn't usually one of my faves. But this liqueur hits with a strong bolt of anise that quickly dissolves into a long and lovely floral and honey finish that seems to last forever. Unlike sambuca, ouzo or Jägermeister, which leave you felling like you've been beaten with a licorice whip as thick around as an anaconda, Xtabentún is a very delicate spirit, and anise is known to aid in digestion, so it's a perfect after-dinner drink.

I liked it so much that I totally passed up those unbelievably cheap duty-free store liquor deals on old scotches or high-end tequilas and used my two-bottle ration to bring home a couple of $16 bottles of Xtabentún. Now as I watch the level drop in the second bottle nightly, I'm already checking the prices of plane flights on Travelocity. ¡Que lastima!

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