What it is: Strega is a magical Italian liqueur made from spells and spun gold. OK, it’s actually a blend of 70 herbs and spices that traces back to the 1860s, when Giuseppe Alberti—a grocer’s son—decided to make a liqueur with saffron (which gives Strega its signature color), a local wild mint and other intriguing ingredients.
How I discovered it: Years ago, my wife and I became friends with the wonderfully friendly Italian woman who made spectacular, unpretentious pasta at the long-shuttered Robertino’s Italian Specialties in Ballard. Sadly, she moved back to Italy, but the night before she left, she brought out a bottle of Strega for a toast. I’ve been hooked ever since—so much so that I traveled to Benevento, Italy, where it’s still made by the Alberti family.
How to use it: Strega is delicious straight, maybe with an ice cube. Its light but complex herbal taste and hint of sweetness also mix well in cocktails. Try an ounce of it mixed with chilled Prosecco. In Italy, it’s not only sipped, but also a key ingredient for desserts—adding it makes almost any cake better. See two recipes below.
Where to find it: Most large liquor stores stock Strega; try Wine World and Spirits (University District, 400 NE 45th St.; 206.402.6086; wineworldspirits.com). Also, smaller local stores should be able to order it easily.
The Bruja Smash
This was created by local bar star turned spirits importer Andrew Bohrer and is featured in A.J. Rathbun’s book Ginger Bliss and the Violet Fizz: A Cocktail Lover’s Guide to Mixing Drinks Using New and Classic Liqueurs.
7 fresh mint leaves
7 fresh raspberries
1 1/2 ounces white tequila
1 ounce Strega
1/2 ounce freshly squeezed lemon juice
1 mint sprig, for garnish
1. Fill a cocktail shaker halfway full with crushed ice. Add the mint leaves, raspberries, tequila, Strega and lemon juice. Shake really well.
2. Dump the contents of the shaker (no straining here) into a large, tulip-style beer glass or other good-size, pretty vessel.
3. Fill the glass with crushed ice, garnish with the mint sprig and serve with a straw.
This is featured in A.J. Rathbun’s book Dark Spirits: 200 Classy Concoctions Starring Bourbon, Brandy, Scotch, Whiskey, Rum, and More.
1 1/2 ounces rye
1 ounce Strega
1/2 ounce freshly squeezed orange juice
1/4 ounce simple syrup
Orange twist, for garnish
1. Fill a cocktail shaker halfway full with ice cubes. Add the rye, Strega, orange juice and simple syrup. Shake magically (while watching the skies).
2. Strain into a cocktail glass. Twist the orange twist clockwise over the drink, then let it sink in.