Skip to main content

Why Sambuca Deserves a Comeback, Especially as a Cocktail Ingredient

The drastic popularity rise of the aperitif in recent years corresponds to a wider appreciation for not only the spirits and cocktails that start an evening off right but also the ones that conclude an excellent meal or a fun night hanging out with friends and family. The Italian digestivos known as amari can be found everywhere, but when it comes to capturing the attention of today’s trend-conscious imbibers, some versions have had a more difficult time than others.

A prime example? Sambuca, a classic Italian digestivo beloved by nonnas and nonnos the world over (including mine!). This distinct, immensely flavorful liqueur often suffers from its reputation as a favorite sipper of the geriatric set. However, plenty of bartenders consider Sambuca’s herbaceous flavor profile exciting and highly conducive to cocktails, leading us to believe that our grandparents had it right all along, and that we could be seeing a lot more of this heritage spirit in the future.

What Is Sambuca?

Sambuca is an Italian after-dinner liqueur made from anise seeds. It bears flavor similarities to Mediterreanean digestivos like ouzo and mastika and to other anise-based beverages like absinthe. Traditionally, Sambuca is served either straight-up or as an addition to coffee. Some Sambuca enthusiasts like to float 3 coffee beans atop a neat pour of Sambuca, allowing the beans to infuse the spirit with coffee flavor in a more subtle way than pouring a straight slug of Sambuca into an Americano would do. This service style, known as “Sambuca fly” (because the coffee beans resemble flies), sometimes involves setting the Sambuca on fire before drinking, giving the flames the opportunity to toast the beans. 

MaximFesenko / Getty Images

Lead bartender William C. Frost of NoHu Rooftop Bar & Restaurant in Weehawken, NJ appreciates Sambuca for its ability to bring families together and fuel a convivial after-dinner atmosphere. “When I was growing up and we went out to eat or had family and friends over, everyone always had coffee and some sort of after-dinner drink after the meal. This is when the real conversation started to take place. For the next hour, over coffee and after-dinner drinks, great debates and unbelievable stories unfolded. Everyone got to speak, and everyone listened. Just because you had a different opinion, [that] didn’t mean we couldn’t sit around a table and share a meal, sip on some coffee and drinks, and enjoy each other’s company. I think we are missing this part of the meal nowadays,. To me, it has always been my favorite part; and this is why I believe Sambuca deserves a comeback,” Frost explains.

Why does Sambuca make an intriguing addition to a cocktail?

Anise spirits in general offer flavor complexity to cocktails, thanks to anise’s natural earthiness and nuance. Beverage director Liran Leibman of ZIZI in New York City includes numerous Mediterranean and Middle Eastern “anisettes” on his cocktail menus, telling us that “back in Israel, anisettes are a crucial part of every bar program and spirits collection of home bartenders! To be honest, my first hangover was from arak [a Levantine anise spirit closely related to Sambuca]. For most Mediterranean and Middle Eastern palates, anise is a familiar flavor and a shot of arak or ouzo on the rocks (with a hint of mint!) are common drinks.” 

“Here, in a territory a bit more suspicious for these bold flavors, we use Anisettes for an extra layer of flavor. I love mastika, an Anisette with a mild, cedar-like flavor — it adds the perfect amount of sweetness to our signature cocktail, The Promised Land,” he adds.

“Mastika […] adds the perfect amount of sweetness to our signature cocktail.”

Beverage director Nazar Hrab of The Pineapple Club in NYC also values anise spirits as cocktail ingredients, and he has a special fondness for Sambuca in particular. “I barely use Sambuca as a shot as it is far too sweet for me and people are either really into it or totally opposed. As a modifier, however, it works great. Sambuca on its own is a really complex spirit, and just by adding a bit to the cocktail, [the drink] gains at least a couple more layers. Sour cocktails benefit a lot from it. Another fun play I have on it is in a whiskey sour with a split base between amaro and Sambuca instead of sugar,” Hrab tells The Manual.

Sambuca Cocktail Recipes

Get to know Sambuca by making yourself one of these anise-packed cocktails.

Pineapple Club Espresso Martini

(Created by Nazar Hrab)

The Pineapple Club

“I’m a big fan of Sambuca in cocktails, [and] my favorite one [with Sambuca] is my take on the espresso martini. Instead of using vodka, I always go for a good Applejack, which makes the drink much more complex. Instead of just using simple syrup, I like to use Branca Menta; apples and mint have a really interesting tandem in the end. Obviously, [I include a] shot of espresso. And to finish this cocktail, I like to make Sambuca whipped cream behind the bar on the spot. After someone orders an Espresso Martini and gets this, I always get a surprised expression … but then they always go for a second one,” Hrab says of his Sambuca-laced martini variation. 


  • 1.5 oz Applejack
  • .5 oz Branca Menta
  • 1 oz Sambuca
  • 1 shot espresso
  • 2 oz heavy cream
  • 1 mint leaf

Method: Add applejack, Branca Menta, and espresso to a shaker. Shake vigorously and strain into a glass. Add Sambuca and heavy cream to a shaker and shake vigorously until combined into a smooth whipped cream. Spoon the whipped cream on top of the cocktail and garnish with a mint leaf.

Have Anise Day

(Created by Tom Barry, bar manager, Forma Restaurant, Los Angeles)

Forma Restaurant

“Sambuca is such an interesting liqueur with a rich history to match its sweet yet intense taste. As a bartender, I enjoy Sambuca for the mystery and vitality that it brings to a cocktail.  Its strong anise aroma allows for some of the most unique and exciting cocktails with an endless amount of flavor combinations,” Barry tells us of the rich dimensions that Sambuca offers his Have Anise Day cocktail.


  • 2 oz bourbon (Barry prefers Buffalo Trace)
  • .5 oz Sambuca
  • .5 oz amaro (Barry prefers Amaro Zucca)
  • 2 dashes celery bitters
  • 2 dashes plum bitters

Method: Add all ingredients to a cocktail shaker and stir until fully combined. Strain into a glass and garnish with an orange peel and a maraschino cherry.

Taylor Tobin
Taylor Tobin is a freelance food, drink, and lifestyle writer based in Brooklyn. She's contributed content to publications…
What is chai? Everything you need to know
A guide to chai tea
Small clay cup of Indian chai on a wooden table.

"Chai" is a word tea lovers tend to throw around, especially when ordering drinks such as the popular chai tea latte. But have you stopped to consider: "what is chai"? Some of us know we love the taste of chai, yet aren't quite sure what it contains. The word chai itself means "tea" in Hindi, yet in the U.S., the term chai generally refers to chai tea. In this guide, we'll dive into all the "what is chai tea" questions you might have, including what it tastes like, where to find it and what to include as you learn how to make delicious Chai tea.
What is chai?

In the U.S., chai typically refers to a black tea that is mixed with unique Indian spices, such as cloves, cinnamon, cardamom, clovers, ginger, and black peppercorns. These spices give chai its unique taste which is brewed as a hot tea and frequently enjoyed with cream or milk added in.
There are quite a few variations of the way chai tea can be enjoyed, as each culture has put its unique spin on this drink. While chai tea is most popular in India, it originated out of British colonization. Today, chai tea is enjoyed all over the world.

Read more
This American whiskey is designed to evoke the flavors of a fine cigar
The QuintEssential Untitled Cigar Malt Project from the Cedar Ridge Distillery

Some experiences were just meant to go together: peanut butter and jelly, gin and tonic, or fish and chips. And for plenty of enthusiasts, whiskey and cigars make a great pairing too. But now a new whiskey is being released which aims to capture the flavors of cigars in its essence: The QuintEssential Untitled Cigar Malt Project from the Cedar Ridge Distillery.

Based in Iowa, the Ceder Ridge Distillery is best know for its bourbon but it also releases American Single Malts under its QuintEssential line. The new addition, which has an abv of 57.45%, is a blend of single malts that have been aged in Cedar Ridge ex-bourbon barrels, before being finished in a range of sherry, Madeira wine, oak, and ruby port casks.

Read more
Pick up an instant craft cocktail with sparkling new offerings from Via Carota
Via Carota Craft Cocktails has five new fizzy cocktails ready to drink
via carota sparkling cocktail vccc 00 family shot c ice bucket 1

If you're after a cocktail but you don't fancy mixing it yourself -- whether it's because you don't have the ingredients or the time, or because you're out and about away from your home bar -- then your options have never been better thanks to the burgeoning market of ready to drink options. You can now buy higher quality cocktails than ever before in bottles, cans, and pouches, perfect for taking with you to a picnic or just stocking your fridge if you don't want to mix your own.

Among the brands producing ready to drink options is Via Carota Craft Cocktails, an offshot of the hugely popular New York restaurant Via Carota. And the brand is expanding its offerings to include sparkling cocktails, with five new options now available.

Read more