Between Cocktails and Cookies There's Anisette

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Photo by Caitlin Bell
Italian Anisette Cookies

Summer, I think, is the best time to read Hemingway. I'm hot and perpetually dehydrated, so the fact that everyone is downing drinks like there's no tomorrow is appealing if not more understandable. I also like to imagine the sweaty languor I experience after running errands in the hot sun is probably similar to the Lost-Generation malaise from which his characters suffer.

At least this is why every July I become interested in rereading The Sun Also Rises, which contains this passage:

"He's not dead," Mike sad. "I know he's not dead. He's just passed out on Anis del Mono." As he said Anis del Mono one of the men at the table looked up, brought out a bottle from inside his smock, and handed it to me. "No," I said. "No, thanks!" "Yes. Yes. Arriba! Up with the bottle!" I took a drink. It tasted of licorice and warmed all the way. I could feel it warming in my stomach."

In the past, I haven't focused much on the specified liquor (anis del mono) and instead thought more about how repetition fuels the prosody of this speech. Now, post Ph.D. my brain isn't quite ready yet to work that hard again. Instead I wondered about this monkey liquid licorice. Was it like ouzo? Or sambuca? Similar, I learned, but not exactly the same.

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Photo by JaulaDeArdilla
Hemingway walking outside anisette distillery in Spain. Just kidding.

All of the aforementioned spirits are flavored with anise, but anisette tends to be sweeter and clear in its base form. Its high alcohol content also means it's more popular as a cocktail ingredient, as opposed to ouzo, grappa, sambuca, which are most often imbibed straight or with a splash of water. Notable mixed drinks that feature anisette include the General Lee and Millionaire Cocktail No. 1. My favorite, however, is the Cafe de Paris cocktail, which is sort of like an alcoholic protein shake.

So intensely sweet, anisette (as you might notice from the drink recipes) is very potent in small quantities and therefore also useful as a flavoring in baked goods. Visiting my Italian-American relatives for Christmas meant plenty of chewy anisette cookies (with frosting if we were lucky).

In Houston, anisette cookies are hard to find given the relative paucity of Italian bakeries. (Readers, jump in here if you know a terrific specifically Italian bakery!) I have spotted them at the Buffalo Speedway H-E-B, which offers a rotating selection of Italian cookies. You're better making your own. And while you're at it, mix up an anisette cocktail and turn on an audiobook of Hemingway to get in the mood.


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