During the January Home-Made Preparations seminar, I met Elisa Carta, owner of the Liquore delle Sirene. I had heard about this new product, but I never had the chance to taste it.
At the end of the course Elisa invited me to go and visit the factory where she produces her bitter. In this article I will tell you how this liqueur is produced.
What is the Liquore delle Sirene
Liquore delle Sirene is an amber-colored bitter based on herbs, roots, flowers and fruit. The taste is bitter, not too sugary, with very present notes of orange flowers, rose and cinnamon. The finish is something unique: in addition to having a rather persistent bitter finish, it is slightly tangy, due to the presence of ginger and galanga.
A little curiosity about ginger. The spiciness of ginger is due to a substance inside it called gingerol. However, the spiciness of ginger is variable. The dried one is much spicier than the fresh one because the gingerol, during the drying process, turns into shogaol while during cooking gingerol and shogaol are transformed into zingerone, a lot less hot, but spicy and vaguely sweet.
Back to the liqueur, I must say that I was pleasantly impressed. It has an alcohol content of 23% vol and is obtained from the infusion of 23 botanicals. The bitter part, what Elisa calls the skeleton, the base of its product, is given by china, gentian, rhubarb, bitter orange rinds and absinthe, while the most fragrant and aromatic part is given by the other spices such as orange flowers, rose petals, linden flowers and cinnamon.
How It’s made
Before explaining how the liqueur is made, I would like to express my personal point of view on the value of craftsmanship. It is a general speech, which has nothing to do with Sirene, I only take the chance.
An artisanal and / or traditional production is not synonymous of a higher quality or a more pleasant taste, just as an industrial production is not synonymous of a low quality. There are excellent industrial products and there are very bad artisanal ones. Quality is an attribute that is not limited to only artisan / industrial dualism, but it is much more complex. The same argument can be reported in parallel with the home-made preparations; home-made is not synonymous of higher quality. In this article I cannot discuss further on this topic that I will deepen in the future, but I hope that it clarifies my point of view.
Back on topic, the Liquore delle Sirene is a liqueur produced in a totally artisanal way: every single step of the production is done in the factory, without the addition of aromas or infusions produced by third parties or additives and dyes. Automation is limited only to bottling and labeling.
First of all, the 23 spices are infused individually, each in a hydroalcoholic mixture with different alcohol content. This is done, and is a general guideline that also applies in the preparation of home-made liqueurs or bitters, to get the most from the aromatic point of view from each ingredient.
To find the right alcohol content, the right amount of spices to infuse and the proportions of the blend, Elisa took 18 months.
Once the infusion is over, the solid part is separated and pressed to recover all the liquid absorbed by the spices. Despite the pressing, the estimated loss of alcohol is around 17%. The alcohol that is lost must be communicated to the customs. Subsequently, the tintures are coarsely filtered through tessile filters.
At this point the tinctures are blended together in different proportions. Finding the right balance is not easy, it is necessary to consider the taste of single infusions and their alcohol content because the finished product must be at 23% vol.
In addition, the blend is not always the same in proportions because the infusions are not always identical: the starting spices are subject to a certain variability because they are purchased at different times of the year and therefore coming from different crops.
Once the right balance of the blend is obtained, water and sugar are added and everything is mixed. In the picture below you see the inside of the mixer. Water and alcohol are perfectly miscible, the mixer allows you to do this in large quantities and helps to dissolve any sugar that has not perfectly entered the solution.
Once mixed, the liqueur is not yet ready, it must be filtered. This second filtration is managed by a pump filter, with a cellulose plate filter. This process completely eliminates the sediments, making the liqueur clear.
At this point we proceed to the bottling and labeling.
Making a liqueur in a totally artisanal way is not easy for the reasons we listed above, among all the variability of the raw material and the different yield of the infusions. It is necessary to constantly monitor the process and to constantly taste to intervene in case there are problems.
In this regard, Elisa told me a very interesting anecdote. One of the batches was too bitter. To remove the intensity of the bitter notes, a little salt was added. It is an ancient remedy, which has been handed down for centuries in the liqueur factories.
Salt, as you know, is a flavor enhancer (think about when you make a sauce). This ingredient manages to do this, among many reasons, precisely because it lowers the point of bitterness as demonstrated by Breslin and Beauchamp in an article published on Nature entitled Salt enhances flavor by suppressing bitterness. Clearly in this case it was not interesting to enhance the flavor, but simply make the batch less bitter.