Anisette is the oldest of several anise-flavored liqueurs, among which is the infamous green liqueur, Absinthe, which has been banned in many countries for years. Anisette, which has a more benign reputation, is made from a neutral spirit flavored with the seed of the anise plant, of the parsley (Apiaceae) family, and various herbs and spices, including coriander. Like most anise liqueurs, anisette gets cloudy when water is added.
Although anisette is often sipped alone, there are a number of anisette drink recipes you might enjoy.
Anisette is sometimes identified as an anis which is a category of anise-flavored liqueurs. Although anisette certainly falls into the broader category of anise-flavored liqueurs or liqueurs d’anis, it is usually not called an anis, since these are generally considered to be the drier anise liqueurs such as pastis/ (named after Ricard Pastis, a maker of original absinthe), ouzo, and arak. They also generally use the seeds of star anise rather than true anise seed. Star anise is less expensive but perhaps inferior to Pimpinella anisum, or true anise. The star anise fruit seeds, however, contain the main flavor compound of anise, which is anethole.
Like any anise liqueur, anisette may be made by distilling the anise seeds with a spirit or by a maceration of the seeds in the spirit. Anisette has a fennel-like or licorice flavor and tends to be sweeter than other anise liqueurs, such as the aforementioned anis or pastis. However, the European brands are typically much less sweet than the American ones, which can tend towards syrupiness. Anisette also has a lower alcohol percentage than most others, being only 25% alcohol by volume.
Anisette has the distinction of being one of the first commercially produced liqueurs, beginning in 1755 with the Marie Brizard spirit company. This product is also sometimes claimed to be the first anise liqueur, but this is clearly not true.
Anise preparations were used as medicinals by the ancient Egyptians, Greeks, and Romans. Pliny even recommended them for headaches, cancerous growths in the nasal passages, as an expectorant (with honey), and to relieve digestive upsets, including flatulence, gripping of the intestines (cramps), etc. With almonds, he said it would relieve pain in the joints. Anise was also said to induce sleep, cure kidney problems, help with childbirth (by just smelling it!), counteract fatigue, and even to cause vomiting.
The Romans are said to have eaten spiced cake with anise to avoid indigestion after a large meal. Pythagoras said it would absolutely guarantee an absence of seizures. In England, in 1305, anise was so popular that King James I taxed it as a commodity because he needed money to repair the London Bridge.
Anise was not only imbibed in liquid elixirs, however, the fumes from burning anise were used to cure headaches and to “fumigate the nostrils”…whatever that means. Today, cough drops and syrups still sometimes contain anise and it is still used as a carminative, to relieve gas.
Marie Brizard Anisette is still the most popular brand, and it also was at first used only for medicinal purposes, until it became popular as a drink, which caused business to grow through the roof, allowing the company to ship it all over Europe, and eventually, the world, although anisette is mostly consumed in France, Italy, and Spain. The company says the liqueur is “a blend of green anise along with 10 rare plants, fruits and spices.” It is made in the Bordeaux region of France and there are other liquor producers in this region who make fine anisettes. Another French brand is Garbriel Boudier Anisette, from Dijon, France.
Some American brands of anisette are Arrow, DeKuyper, Leroux, and Hiram Walker. Again, these tend to be sweeter still than European brands
Spain is known for producing fine anisettes, as well. Anis del Mono Anisette, with dry and sweet varieties, is made in Badalona, Catalonia, and is considered to be right up there with Marie Brizard. Chinchón Village, in Madrid, has one distillery, owned by Gonzalez-Byass, which produces Chinchónanisette, in a sweet (dulce), dry (seco), and special dry variety, which is also considered a fine anisette.