Hierbas in Ibiza
The DJs spinning Balearic beats along the coastline of Ibiza time their sets to play the sun down into the sea. Rhythm and blues vocals croon over the meditative bass drone of some remix or another, and the air perks up with the smell of licorice. I trace the wafting aroma like a cartoon character following my nose to treasure.
Licorice in the air is the mark of Hierbas Ibicencas, an aniseed-forward herbal liqueur that forms the backbone of local drinking culture. Far away from the resort mess of San Antonio—and still tucked into the corners of authenticity that remain there—Hierbas is hailed as the true taste of Ibiza. Its lineage has been shaped by the passing centuries, from medieval monks brewing medicinal potions to secret formulas crafted by famous island families.
Perched atop the sea-facing wall of a neighborhood beach bar, I nurse a Hierbas on the rocks. The sun is falling into the Mediterranean on Ibiza’s western coast, but on this side, further east, the colors of the sky gently tint my glass as they darken slowly into night. The Hierbas is thick and syrupy, like medicine. It coats my glass and catches the oranges and pinks and reds of sunset at the sea.
Some say Hierbas is an elixir inspired by the mysterious island of Es Vedra, a tiny rock formation believed to possess rare magnetic properties. The urban legend persists, the magnets and the magic, superstitions lingering in spite of a definitive lack of evidence that there is anything geologically special about this place. Others swear by the medicinal history of Hierbas.
There are at least as many experiences of Ibiza as there are ingredients in its local drink: thyme, peppermint, rue, rosemary, eucalyptus, lavender, lemon, orange, and fennel layered between an aniseed base and the rest of a secret recipe. This place can be sanctuary, a hedonist’s retreat, or an escape from reality. Then there are the locals, families descended from the ancient people of this land and the history of Carthage and the gods, the Moors and the Vandals, Muslims and Catholics and Jews.
The ice in my glass melts, diluting the color and the heft of what Hierbas remains. Parents call their suntanned children away from the receding tide and the emptying beach. Back inside the bar, an Ibicenco couple downs shots of Hierbas before dinner. Dos chupitos. They pay no mind to the summer tourists. Dos más.
Once this island gets its claws in you, there’s no escaping its pull. Ibiza clings to consciousness like the legs of that last Hierbas crawling reluctantly down the inside of a rocks glass. Many of us carve some sense of home into this rock. Maybe it’s the sea, maybe it’s the dark. Maybe it’s the aniseed.