What Is Pacharán Liqueur?

A Guide to Buying and Drinking Pacharán Liqueur

2 glasses of pacharan

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Pacharán (called patxaran in the Basque language) is a liqueur made from blackthorn or sloe bush berries. Called endrinas in Spanish, the berries grow wild in Navarra, the Basque region in the north of Spain where pacharán is produced. Pacharán is most often drunk in that area, though it is a popular liqueur all over Spain. It's also called licor de Zoco, an adopted name for the liqueur inspired by the most famous brand. Pacharán is gaining attention with bartenders throughout the world, though it remains relatively obscure globally.

Pacharán vs. Sloe Gin

Pacharán and sloe gin are two sloe-flavored liqueurs. Where pacharán is exclusive to one region in Spain, sloe gin hails from England and may be produced anywhere in the world. They are both sweet and the sloe flavor dominates, so the big difference is in the background flavor. Sloe gin uses a gin base and you'll find hints of juniper in the taste. Pacharán, on the other hand, uses a neutral alcohol base, but the added anise will add a little licorice to the flavor.

Fast Facts

  • Ingredients: Sloe berries, anise, alcohol
  • Proof: 50–60
  • ABV: 25–30%
  • Calories in a shot: 79
  • Origin: Navarra, Spain
  • Taste: Sweet, fruity
  • Serve: Straight, chilled, cocktails

What Is Pacharán Made From?

Although pacharán has gained in popularity in the last century, it is a very old drink. It was originally used for medicinal purposes (including a digestive aid) dating back to the Middle Ages. Through the mid-1900s, pacharán was primarily a homemade liqueur and fundamental to the Basque culture in the Navarra region of northern Spain.

First sold in 1956, the oldest commercial brand is Zoco. It was founded by the family of Ambrosio Velasco, who had been producing pacharán in the Viana area since 1816. This brand is now owned by Diego Zamora Group and remains the best-known brand in Spain. In 1988, pacharán received an official "Denomination of Origin." In order for a label to include "Pacharán Navarro," the liqueur must be made in the defined geographical area and meet certain guidelines set by the regulatory council that oversees it (Consejo Regulador de Denominacion, Pacharán Navarro). Even the color of the liqueur must be between certain wavelengths and is described as a bright maroon cherry red.

The liqueur is made by macerating (soaking) high-quality sloe berries in ethyl alcohol for one to eight months. Sloe berries (Prunus spinosa), are blackish-blue, about the size and shape of a plum, and are harvested in the fall. Pacharán also includes aniseed (either green or star anise are allowed) and is sweetened with a regulated amount of sugar. It must be filtered before it's bottled between 25 percent and 30 percent alcohol by volume (ABV, 50 to 60 proof). Unlike wine, it does not age well. It is best to drink it within two to three years of bottling.

It's also easy to make pacharán at home. Use very ripe sloes, a semi-sweet anise liqueur, then add coffee beans and a cinnamon stick for a little extra flavor. The infusion requires between two and four months and you'll want to shake the bottle regularly.

What Does Pacharán Taste Like?

Pacharán has an intense, fruity aroma. On the palate, it should have a fresh and long-lasting flavor.

Where to Buy Pacharán

Pacharán is available in supermarkets and liquor stores everywhere in Spain. Elsewhere, including the U.S., it may be sold in liquor stores that have specialty or international sections. You can also find it for sale at a number of online liquor stores. However, shipping regulations vary by country (and, in the U.S., by state). Depending on where you live, this may not be a viable option.

How to Drink Pacharán

Traditionally, pacharán is served cold (about 45 degrees Fahrenheit) in a brandy snifter. Adding ice will dilute the liqueur too much as it melts. It is best served at the end of a meal, as a digestif, to aid digestion.

Cocktail Recipes

Pacharán is not a well-known cocktail ingredient, though it is being noticed by bartenders worldwide. While there are no popular cocktail recipes for it, a good place to begin experimenting with the liqueur is in sloe gin drink recipes. The underlying anise flavor should be interesting when using pacharán as a substitute for sloe gin in:

Popular Brands

Zoco is the best-known and most widely distributed brand of pacharán. There are a number of other brands to choose from, though not all will be available outside of Spain.

  • Baines
  • Berezko
  • Etxeko
  • Kantxa
  • La Navarra
  • Las Endrinas
  • Usua
  • Zoco