Travel Daydream: The Spirits of Mallorca

These days, I am doing most of my traveling in my mind, but when I am able, I will be on the next flight to the Spanish island of Mallorca (sometimes called “Majorca” in English). Mallorca and the other Balearic Islands are located about in the Mediterranean Sea, 150 miles/240 km of the coast of Spain.

In addition to the pristine beaches (check out Cala Agulla on the island’s east coast), the cities (check out the sophisticated capital—Palma de Mallorca—or the old town of Alcúdia), and a plethora of amazing activities (you can catch an underground concert in the Caves/Cuevas del Drach)—Mallorca has an amazing local food scene. You’ll want to try Sobrassada (spicy sausage), Trampó (a salad made with local tomatoes, green peppers, and olive oil), and Ensaimadas (a spiral-shaped sweet pastry enjoyed at breakfast or as a snack). The island is also known for several specialty spirits, including two that have been recognized as iconic products of the region.

Here are some details on the spirits of Mallorca:

Palo de Mallorca is a bitter liqueur with a protected geographical indication (GI) for Mallorca since 1989. It is typically served as an aperitif with a bit of soda water and ice. This popular tipple is known as Palo con Sifón, as in “palo with sparkling water spritzed from a siphon.”

Palo de Mallorca is made from an infusion of the quinine-containing bark of the Cinchona tree (quina) and gentian root. These botanicals are bitter-tasting and flavorful, and known to be a preventative and remedy for fevers, malaria, and other maladies. Like most bitters, Palo de Mallorca was first produced as a form of herbal medicine. Sweeteners and caramel coloring were added by later generations to make it more palatable and led to its popularity as an aperitif and for use in cocktails.

Palo de Mallorca is bottled at a minimum of 25% abv and is intended to have a bitter taste balanced by sweetness. It is dark brown-to-almost black in color and shows aromas and flavors of licorice, dried herbs, and caramel. At last count, there were eight brands of Palo de Mallorca in production. Of these, the best known include Tunel, Limsa, Dos Perellons, and Vidal. Alas, to purchase Palo from a store, you’ll most likely need to travel to Europe (but it should be available via online retailers).

The name—palo—translates to “stick,” but is based on palo quina—the island’s traditional name for quina bark.

Herbes de Mallorca is produced using a base of an anise-flavored spirit and infused with other aromatic plants grown on the island of Mallorca. Typical flavorings include lemon verbena, chamomile, rosemary, fennel, and lemon balm as well as local citrus fruit (lemon and orange). Herbes de Mallorca was awarded a protected geographical indication (GI) for Mallorca in 2008.

Herbes de Mallorca may be bottled unsweetened (dry), or with varying degrees of sugar (up to 300 g/L). Dry versions are bottled with a minimum of 35% alcohol by volume, while sweet versions require at least 20% abv.

Herbes de Mallorca has a clear appearance with colors ranging from amber to vivid green. Aromas and flavors are typically described as a combination of anise (licorice), green herbs—fresh and intense), citrus (lemon and orange), and mild floral undertones.

The production of spirits infused with herbs on Mallorca. It is believed that it can be traced back to the establishment of a series of Christian monasteries all around the island in the 13th century. The popularity of the drink soared in the 19th century, when just about every farmer—and many householders—produced their own versions of Herbes de Mallorca.

These days, Herbes de Mallorca is enjoyed as an aperitif or digestif—often on the rocks, with or without a shot of soda water—or as a shot (chupito). A popular cocktail known as Agua de Mallorca combines it together with kiwi fruit (grown on the island) and soda water. Figs—another specialty of Mallorca—are often dried and soaked in Herbes de Mallorca to make a well-preserved and tasty snack.

Herbes de Mallorca is available in the larger wine and spirits markets of the United States or via online retailers. Popular brands include Tunel, Morey, and Mezcladas de Mallorca.

Palma de Mallorca—the island’s capital city

Note: Herbes de Mallorca is the Catalan spelling; the Spanish verion—Hierbas de Mallorca—is also used.

While they are not widely seen outside of Europe, Mallorca also produces a good deal of wine. Check back next week for a post about the wines of Mallorca!

References/for more information:

The Bubbly Professor is “Miss Jane” Nickles of Austin, Texas…

About bubblyprof
Wine Writer and Educator...a 20-year journey from Bristol Hotels to Le Cordon Bleu Schools and the Society of Wine Educators

4 Responses to Travel Daydream: The Spirits of Mallorca

  1. Good one Miss Jane. Now I will add Mallorca to my list of places to visit!
    Can´t wait to find some Palo de Mallorca! We are so close and yet so far here in Portugal. Quinquinas are some of my favorite liqueurs. Happily, we have a store here in Porto that can order just about anything for us. Thanks for the always informative intel. Sáude!

  2. Pingback: (More) Travel Daydreams: The Wines of Mallorca | The Bubbly Professor

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