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La Rioja’s Traditional Liqueur: Patxaran

sloeberry2.jpgIf it wasn’t for the title of this post, I trust that you’d most likely look at the word “patxaran” and wonder if it wasn’t the name of a pharmaceutical drug or a race of aliens on Star Trek. Sounding the letters out one by one, you suddenly find your tongue confused, unable to maneuver its way to the front of your teeth, then quickly, to the back of your throat in one seamless movement. But rest assured that the phonetics of this word are actually quite simple once you get the hang of the notorious Euskara (native language of Navarra) “tx” sound, pronounced like our “ch”. Hence, Patxaran is phonetically spelled like Pacharán, which is also how it is brilliantly written in Spanish – love the logic of this language!

It wasn’t until our trip to Rioja, and our following visit to Alimentaria, when I truly understood what Patxaran was. Mind you, throughout Rioja, so few people were able to share the history of liquor, shrugging their shoulders in silent ignorance, “It’s a family made drink that people occasionally consumed in their house,” we were told, but we wanted to know more.

What I learned was that Patxaran in Euskara means sloe berry or baso aran (wild plum), a name you might accurately associate with sloe gin. A small dark berry with red juice, a sloe berry comes from a blackthorn bush and is a relative of the plum, while Patxaran is a sloe-flavoured liqueur most commonly drunk in Navarra, the Basque Country and La Rioja.

Historically, Patxaran was used in the middle ages as a remedy for digestive orders. Containing Vitamin C, as well as being a tonic and an astringent, it was thought to strengthen the stomach; relieve aches and pains of old age; prevent atherosclerosis and stroke; and acts as a sedative to calm your nerves. By the mid 14th Century, patxaran was being used for Queen Blanca I of Navarra (also known as Blanche I) at the Santa Maria de Nieva Monastery as a cure all for her illness – whatever that may have been. At this same period, it was also being served for more festive occasions like Gonofre of Navarre’s wedding, the son of King Carlos III, who married Dona Teresa Arellano. However, it wasn’t for another five hundred years that “pacharaneras”, venders of sloe berries, were appearing in open air markets across Navarra. As a result, in the 19th Century, this delicious digestif was considered the traditional after dinner drink in both restaurants and households alike. By the 1950s it was commercialized outside ofpatxaran.jpgNavarra, possibly as a result of the soldiers in the National Services hauling it with them throughout the rest of Spain.

Patxaran is made by soaking sloe berries in an anise-flavored spirit or arujo, with a few coffee beans and a vanilla pod for approximately 3 to 4 months, resulting in a light mahogany colored sweet liqueur, around 25-30% alcohol by volume. Traditionally, it is served chilled or on ice as a digestif (although I don’t suggest this as it tends to dilute the rich spice flavor).

In total there are only a handful of distilleries who make Patxaran throughout Navarra and La Rioja, as the majority of people drink their own concoction in house. Consequently, I haven’t tried a wide variety, but I can share with you my experience with Gaizka Barañano of Destilerias Barañano Atxa (website is currently out of service at the moment) at Barcelona’s International Food and Wine Fair, Alimentaria. Knowing very little about patxaran, Gaizka took well over 40 minutes chatting with me, from which the majority of this article is based on. A family run business since 1831, Destilerias Barañano Atxa not only makes a wide range of liqueur of which Patxaran makes up a half of their total product line, but also aguardiente, limoncillo, as well as a wide range of liqueurs made with honey, peach, cream, apple and herbs. Having tried both their Patxaran Redondo and their high end Gaizka, fermented without the pit, each were dark, spicy and delicious; however the Gaizka was absolutely phenomenal with its silky and full mouthfeel, bright anise and blue fruit flavors, with a lingering round, lush and spicy finish.

Gaizka was kind enough to provide me with a recipe for making Patxaran at home, in addition to some mixed drinks and desserts for which I have provided below.

Recipe for Patxaran

Ingredients for a one liter bottle:
3/4 of a kilo of sloe berries
Anise brandy or any white brandy
40 grams of sugar
3 coffee beans
1 vanilla bean

Preparation
Wash the sloe berries and place them into a wide neck bottle. Fill the bottle with your hard liqueur of choice. If you desire a liqueur with a touch of sweetness, add sugar. Drop in the coffee and vanilla beans, cover the bottle and leave in a dark, cool place for at least three months. Other ingredients you can add include Chamomile or a cinnamon stick.

Commonly made Mixed Drinks at Navarran Festivals:

San Fermín: Patxaran with Cava
Butano or Butanito: Patxaran with orange juice
Pachalón: Patxaran with lemon
Vaca-rosa (Pink Cow): Patxaran with milk
Sorbete-rosa: Patxaran with ice cream
Pacharán del Bosque: Patxaran with red fruit juices
Pacharánsete: Patxaran with soda water

Patxaran Dessert:

1 packet of powdered jello per 1 half liter
375 cc water
125 cc patxaran

Bring water to a boil, while at the same time, dissolving the jello in the patxaran. When the water is fully bubbling, turn off the flame and add the patxaran. Place it in the refrigerator for two hours until it turns to gelatin. Serve with dollop of creme fresh or whip creme.

In addition to an anise based Patxaran, we also rounded up a bottle of the Pacharán Ibaya from Destilerias Ezcaray, located in Ezcaray, La Rioja. And like Destilerias Barañano Atxa, this small artesanal distillery has been crafting a wide range of liqueurs for generations. Dark peach rind in color with a dense tangerine, blueberry, peach and vanilla nose. In the mouth, this patxaran is silky and viscous coating my entire mouth in a lush blanket of bright berry flavors. Delicate, feminine and the perfect after dinner drink, highly suggested for a mid summers sip under the moon.

We’d like to hear your stories. Have you ever tried a Patxaran, and if so, how was it?

Cheers,

Gabriella Opaz

  • Gabriella Opaz

    My pleasure! And because you like Patxaran so much, I put in a call to the Hotel Villa Laguardia, and asked them which Patxaran's they carry. They told me that they had 5 different patxaran's 2 of which they personally recommended (**): 1. Pacharán Ibaya (<a href="<a href="http://www.ibaya.es/)**http://www.ibaya.es/)**<br />”><a href="http://www.ibaya.es/)**http://www.ibaya.es/)**<br /> 2. Casero (<a href="<a href="http://www.saboresdepueblo.com/tienda/producto.asp?idProducto=82)**http://www.saboresdepueblo.com/tienda/producto.as…/>”><a href="http://www.saboresdepueblo.com/tienda/pr…” target=”_blank”>http://www.saboresdepueblo.com/tienda/producto.as… 3. Baines (<a href="<a href="http://www.licoresbaines.com/textos/pacharan1.html)http://www.licoresbaines.com/textos/pacharan1.htm…/>”><a href="http://www.licoresbaines.com/textos/pach…” target=”_blank”>http://www.licoresbaines.com/textos/pacharan1.htm… 4. Sendrinas (no clue where to find info about this liqueur) 5. La Navarra (<a href="http://www.grupolanavarra.com/) “>http://www.grupolanavarra.com/)

  • Gabriella Opaz

    My pleasure! And because you like Patxaran so much, I put in a call to the Hotel Villa Laguardia, and asked them which Patxaran's they carry. They told me that they had 5 different patxaran's 2 of which they personally recommended (**): 1. Pacharán Ibaya (<a href="<a href="http://www.ibaya.es/)**http://www.ibaya.es/)**<br />”><a href="http://www.ibaya.es/)**http://www.ibaya.es/)**<br /> 2. Casero (<a href="<a href="http://www.saboresdepueblo.com/tienda/producto.asp?idProducto=82)**http://www.saboresdepueblo.com/tienda/producto.as…/>”><a href="http://www.saboresdepueblo.com/tienda/pr…” target=”_blank”>http://www.saboresdepueblo.com/tienda/producto.as… 3. Baines (<a href="<a href="http://www.licoresbaines.com/textos/pacharan1.html)http://www.licoresbaines.com/textos/pacharan1.htm…/>”><a href="http://www.licoresbaines.com/textos/pach…” target=”_blank”>http://www.licoresbaines.com/textos/pacharan1.htm… 4. Sendrinas (no clue where to find info about this liqueur) 5. La Navarra (<a href="http://www.grupolanavarra.com/) “>http://www.grupolanavarra.com/)

  • Gabriella Opaz

    My pleasure! And because you like Patxaran so much, I put in a call to the Hotel Villa Laguardia, and asked them which Patxaran's they carry. They told me that they had 5 different patxaran's 2 of which they personally recommended (**): 1. Pacharán Ibaya (<a href="<a href="http://www.ibaya.es/)**http://www.ibaya.es/)**<br />”><a href="http://www.ibaya.es/)**http://www.ibaya.es/)**<br /> 2. Casero (<a href="<a href="http://www.saboresdepueblo.com/tienda/producto.asp?idProducto=82)**http://www.saboresdepueblo.com/tienda/producto.as…/>”><a href="http://www.saboresdepueblo.com/tienda/pr…” target=”_blank”>http://www.saboresdepueblo.com/tienda/producto.as… 3. Baines (<a href="<a href="http://www.licoresbaines.com/textos/pacharan1.html)http://www.licoresbaines.com/textos/pacharan1.htm…/>”><a href="http://www.licoresbaines.com/textos/pach…” target=”_blank”>http://www.licoresbaines.com/textos/pacharan1.htm… 4. Sendrinas (no clue where to find info about this liqueur) 5. La Navarra (<a href="http://www.grupolanavarra.com/) “>http://www.grupolanavarra.com/)

  • Gabriella Opaz

    My pleasure! And because you like Patxaran so much, I put in a call to the Hotel Villa Laguardia, and asked them which Patxaran's they carry. They told me that they had 5 different patxaran's 2 of which they personally recommended (**): 1. Pacharán Ibaya (<a href="<a href="http://www.ibaya.es/)**http://www.ibaya.es/)**<br />”><a href="http://www.ibaya.es/)**http://www.ibaya.es/)**<br /> 2. Casero (<a href="<a href="http://www.saboresdepueblo.com/tienda/producto.asp?idProducto=82)**http://www.saboresdepueblo.com/tienda/producto.as…/>”><a href="http://www.saboresdepueblo.com/tienda/pr…” target=”_blank”>http://www.saboresdepueblo.com/tienda/producto.as… 3. Baines (<a href="<a href="http://www.licoresbaines.com/textos/pacharan1.html)http://www.licoresbaines.com/textos/pacharan1.htm…/>”><a href="http://www.licoresbaines.com/textos/pach…” target=”_blank”>http://www.licoresbaines.com/textos/pacharan1.htm… 4. Sendrinas (no clue where to find info about this liqueur) 5. La Navarra (<a href="http://www.grupolanavarra.com/) “>http://www.grupolanavarra.com/)

    • javi

      Hi there,

      Is not “sendrinas”, is “las endrinas”…
      http://lasendrinas.com/
      http://www.ciao.es/Pacharan_Las_Endrinas__387864
      (“endrina” is the spanish name for “wild plum”)

      Basarana Black Label and Baines are one of the best for me, but the one made by me is the best, for sure…. ;-))

      Anyway, patxaran is absolutely much more from Basque Country/Navarra traditions than from La Rioja ones…

      Let me an advice, if try to made your own patxaran do NOT add sugar… you only will get more degrees of unexpected alcohol, what means headache, hangover…
      Another very important one is to use the best anise you can get, NOT “orujo” (“scratches” the troat). Look for the sweeter and softer one.
      I prefer cinnamon much more than vanilla, without doubt.

      … knowledge of a home producer… ;-))

      enjoy

      • http://www.catavino.net Gabriella

        Javi, Thanks so much for sharing your knowledge with us first hand! We really appreciate it!

  • Dr. Debs

    Thanks for the introduction to this historic wine–I had no idea it was still made and know it only from people talking about it (in the 16th century, mind you!) and its medicinal properties. How cool that people STILL make it at home. It reminds me of Sicilians who make Limoncello at home. I've never tried this, but this story makes me tempted to try some home-made liqueurs this summer.

  • Gabriella

    Our pleasure Dr. Debs! It's a delicious drink and I highly recommend people to seek it out, or if they feel so inclined, go ahead and make a batch at home ;-)

  • allaboutalavesa

    Thanks so much for this article!!! I have been addicited to patxaran ever since I was fortunate to visit San Sebastian for the first time in the winter of '98. I believe it was the brand "La Navarra" and our Basque friend ordered it without asking if we had tried it before or even liked it. Needless to say, after a night of walking around the old town eating pinxtos all night, it was the perfect digestif after a hard days work of eating! The best patxaran I have found is at the Hotel Villa Laguardia, just down the hill from the walled city of Laguardia. It is there house patxaran, but I never did find out the brand or who was making it for them. If anyone has info on this I would greatly appreciate it. Salud!

  • http://goodwineunder20.blogspot.com Dr. Debs

    Thanks for the introduction to this historic wine–I had no idea it was still made and know it only from people talking about it (in the 16th century, mind you!) and its medicinal properties. How cool that people STILL make it at home. It reminds me of Sicilians who make Limoncello at home. I’ve never tried this, but this story makes me tempted to try some home-made liqueurs this summer.

  • http://www.catavino.net Gabriella

    Our pleasure Dr. Debs! It’s a delicious drink and I highly recommend people to seek it out, or if they feel so inclined, go ahead and make a batch at home ;-)

  • http://www.prgrisley.com allaboutalavesa

    Thanks so much for this article!!! I have been addicited to patxaran ever since I was fortunate to visit San Sebastian for the first time in the winter of ’98. I believe it was the brand “La Navarra” and our Basque friend ordered it without asking if we had tried it before or even liked it. Needless to say, after a night of walking around the old town eating pinxtos all night, it was the perfect digestif after a hard days work of eating! The best patxaran I have found is at the Hotel Villa Laguardia, just down the hill from the walled city of Laguardia. It is there house patxaran, but I never did find out the brand or who was making it for them. If anyone has info on this I would greatly appreciate it. Salud!

  • http://www.catavino.net Gabriella Opaz

    My pleasure! And because you like Patxaran so much, I put in a call to the Hotel Villa Laguardia, and asked them which Patxaran’s they carry. They told me that they had 5 different patxaran’s 2 of which they personally recommended (**):

    1. Pacharán Ibaya (http://www.ibaya.es/)**
    2. Casero (http://www.saboresdepueblo.com/tienda/producto.asp?idProducto=82)**
    3. Baines (http://www.licoresbaines.com/textos/pacharan1.html)
    4. Sendrinas (no clue where to find info about this liqueur)
    5. La Navarra (http://www.grupolanavarra.com/)

  • RichardA

    I had Patxaran for the first time at the Le Medoc Alavés in the Hotel Villa Laguardia. It was given to us as a complimentary drink with our dessert. I never got the name of it either but do remember it had a very unique flavor.

  • Tim

    Thanks for the introduction to Patxaran. I've never had the opportunity to try it, but it sounds delightful. It's funny how many traditional liqueurs have their roots in medicine. If I can find it in my area, I'll have to try it… for medicinal purposes of course.

  • http://www.passionatefoodie.blogspot.com RichardA

    I had Patxaran for the first time at the Le Medoc Alavés in the Hotel Villa Laguardia. It was given to us as a complimentary drink with our dessert. I never got the name of it either but do remember it had a very unique flavor.

  • http://www.cheapwineratings.com Tim

    Thanks for the introduction to Patxaran. I’ve never had the opportunity to try it, but it sounds delightful. It’s funny how many traditional liqueurs have their roots in medicine. If I can find it in my area, I’ll have to try it… for medicinal purposes of course.

  • Oenophilus

    I've never even heard of this, but your piece makes me want to try to get my hands on it ASAP. Given the relative obscurity, I expect I will have to wait for your recipe so I can try to make my own. !Salud!

  • http://www.oenophilia.wordpress.com Oenophilus

    I’ve never even heard of this, but your piece makes me want to try to get my hands on it ASAP. Given the relative obscurity, I expect I will have to wait for your recipe so I can try to make my own. !Salud!

  • Ane Miren

    I've been a fan of Patxaran for years and, in my opinion, the comercially produced Patxaranes aren't anywhere as good as the home-made ones. The problem, of course, is that you either have to know someone who makes Patxaran or you have to make it yourself. A trick I picked up a few years ago from a friend for serving the Patxaran at the right temperature:- always keep a few shot glasses in the freezer and serve in these glasses straight from the freezer.

  • http://www.excelwines.com Ane Miren

    I’ve been a fan of Patxaran for years and, in my opinion, the comercially produced Patxaranes aren’t anywhere as good as the home-made ones. The problem, of course, is that you either have to know someone who makes Patxaran or you have to make it yourself.

    A trick I picked up a few years ago from a friend for serving the Patxaran at the right temperature:- always keep a few shot glasses in the freezer and serve in these glasses straight from the freezer.

  • Marlene

    Always noticed Patxaran in the stores in Spain when shopping for wine, but hadn't tasted it until 2005 when staying with a lovely family in their casa rural south of Logroño. The señora showed us how she harvested the berries, and in the evenings we sat in their living room drinking their delicious homemade Patxaran with them. I brought a bottle home with me, and since then have occasionally been able to find it in the local liquor store. Love to drink it on Sunday mornings mixed with ruby red grapefruit juice, or straight on its own.

  • Marlene

    Always noticed Patxaran in the stores in Spain when shopping for wine, but hadn’t tasted it until 2005 when staying with a lovely family in their casa rural south of Logroño. The señora showed us how she harvested the berries, and in the evenings we sat in their living room drinking their delicious homemade Patxaran with them. I brought a bottle home with me, and since then have occasionally been able to find it in the local liquor store. Love to drink it on Sunday mornings mixed with ruby red grapefruit juice, or straight on its own.

  • Greg

    I have been looking for Pacharan here in Los Angeles for years and have never been able to find it. Does anybody know where I can buy it here in the USA? Thanks!

  • Greg

    I have been looking for Pacharan here in Los Angeles for years and have never been able to find it.
    Does anybody know where I can buy it here in the USA?

    Thanks!

  • Marlene

    I've found the Baines Pacharan at "klwines.com" in the past.

  • Marlene

    If that isn't available, you might also try "WineDelight.com", they were offering another brand of pacharan recently.

  • Marlene

    I’ve found the Baines Pacharan at “klwines.com” in the past.

  • Marlene

    If that isn’t available, you might also try “WineDelight.com”, they were offering another brand of pacharan recently.

  • Greg

    Eskerri asko, Marlene! That's "Thank you" in Basque" :-) Greg

  • Gabriella

    Marlene, thanks so much for helping out, as I haven't had much luck tracking the information down for Greg. However, as many of you had shown a desire to make Patxaran at home, I've included the recipe in the article. I encourage to give it a try and let us know how it turns out!

  • Greg

    Eskerri asko, Marlene!

    That’s “Thank you” in Basque” :-)

    Greg

  • http://www.catavino.net Gabriella

    Marlene, thanks so much for helping out, as I haven’t had much luck tracking the information down for Greg. However, as many of you had shown a desire to make Patxaran at home, I’ve included the recipe in the article. I encourage to give it a try and let us know how it turns out!

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  • Ray Rodriguez

    Were can I find in the USA to buy Patxaran…any web site you can direct me to???

  • http://www.tvstrategies.com Steve H

    Hola Gabriella, Thank you for sharing the Patxaran recipe. I am very interested in making it at home. (If my friend can make prociutto at home, I can make Patxaran!). Can you please provide more details about the preparation? Do the berries need to be mashed up? Is there any cooking involved? Also, your article says that I can use the hard liquor of my choice. I have some arujo from my last visit to Barcelona, but I do not want to use it for Patxaran. Because arujo is not easily available in the USA, are there any alternatives to arujo? I travel a lot for business, and I have developed a habit of asking bartenders what kinds of liquors are customary for the place. So when in Barcelona (at a hosted dinner at Casa Batllo!) I asked, and was introduced to Patxaran! Over the years, I have developed a liquor cabinet full of unique and interesting spirits.Thank you- Steve

    • javi

      hi steve,
      no mash up, no cook, just put the berries in the receptacle, the anise (no orujo because is very rough for patxaran, look for another sweeter and softer), one stick of cinamon and some cofee grains, thats all.(no sugar please, you only will get more sweet and more alcohol…)
      now keep it out the light for 4 months (you only need to move it carefully one time by two weeks for a good distribution).
      after this 4 months, drain it, throw away the berries (you will get very drunk if you eat them…) and you can drink your own made patxaran.

      be lucky!!
      javi

  • Max

    I'm from Spain and I go often to the Basque Counry, so maybe someone will find interesting my personal ranking of commercial patxarans, although I know home made ones are often far better:
    1) Usua
    2) Baines
    3) Las Endrinas
    4) La Navarra
    5) Etxeko
    6) Aitor

    The worst:
    x) Zoco (distributed by Larios in Spain)
    x) Olatz

  • Susana

    DO YOU KNOW WHERE I CAN FIND A GOOD PATXARAN IN LOS ANGELES?