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.

Related Videos

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.

Editors' Recommendations

Here’s what drinks pros have learned from Dry January
How do you extend Dry January all year long? We got some advice from the pros
A pair of mocktails.

A new year is upon us and for a lot of people, that means new healthy habits. It might mean a new diet, pre-bedtime sleep ritual, or cutting back on the booze. Often, the plusses of these lifestyle changes are so significant that you hope to continue them well beyond just January.

There are lots of sober curious people looking to take the merits of Dry January all the way through 2023. But it's not easy, especially with our favorite bars back open, friends always looking for an excuse to get out, and some really good cocktails in the mix. So we solicited some advice from drinks industry pros who've done the Dry January thing and learned from it. Here's some of that valuable wisdom, passed on to the new, 2023 version of you.

Read more
A major change is coming to In-N-Out, and people have feelings
In-N-Out is expanding, and people are Double-Double excited about it
in n out is expanding east 4362007789 b397b0fce5 k

After years of excited whispers and rumors, it appears it's finally happening. The popular California fast food chain, In-N-Out, will open its first location east of the Mississippi. The catch? Apparently, it won't be happening until 2026. So don't start studying that secret menu just yet.

In-N-Out is celebrated, and sometimes nearly worshiped by what can best be described as a near-religious following. To be sure, the food is delicious, but the conviction of the restaurant's fanbase is intense, to say the least. Perhaps it's due to the refreshingly old-fashioned simple menu. Maybe it's the high standards of freshness the restaurant holds. It may also have something to do with every employee's somehow always authentic smiles and warmth. And there is something to be said about being "in-the-know" on that secret menu. Whatever the reason, the burgers are damned good, and the more people who can enjoy them, the better.

Read more
5 food and drink trends the experts wish would just go away
Food trends can be fun, but these are a few we're totally over
food and drink trends that should die in 2023 molecular gastronomy

We all love food trends. There's something exciting about being in on the fun and chatting knowingly about delicious newcomers like butter boards and cloud bread. Every now and then, it's good to jump on the bandwagon because you may find you love something you might not have otherwise tried if not for TikTok or Instagram. We're all for unique experiences and constantly learning and trying new things. Sometimes, though, these trends outstay their welcome. Sometimes, they just won't take the hint, which means it's time to drop the nice manners and scoot them out the door. We've chatted with some experts in the food world to find out which of these trends they're most eager to see go, and we have to admit — we couldn't agree more.

Molecular gastronomy
Marissa Johnson, professional event planner and founder of Inflatable Blast, says, "This trend has been around for a while, and it's time for it to go. We're all for experimentation in the kitchen, but some of the 'molecular' dishes we've seen look more like science experiments than food."

Read more