The Bewitching Tale of Strega Liqueur
Halloween may have come and gone, but this liqueur is enchanting and mysterious year round. An Italian spirit called Strega, the English translation—the Witch.
This potent liqueur with an eerie glow is perfect for haunting cocktails. To set a frightful table, we’ve all labeled the olives “Eye Balls”, served up the “All Hallow’s Cheese” but it is exponentially cooler to present something with a real spook of a name, or a haunting story. Strega has legend and lore, hags round the cauldron, the toil and trouble, the bubble, bubble.
Hailing from Benevento Italy, Strega is from a town that was named the “city of witches.” It was a place where witches congregated, the meet up for all magic folk in the world—think Hogwarts, Macbeth act IV, platform nine and three quarters.
It was there that the Alberti family first concocted this drink but legend has it that the witches in the nearby wood gifted them the recipe. They would assemble there for spells and ritual, the brothers Alberti foraging for herbs saved a witch from a falling tree, in gratitude she created the secret formula. A rather viscous blend of 70 different herbs and spices, “not bat wings and eyeballs the company jokes,” is then colored with saffron for a luminous hue. The recipe is still kept under lock and key, the herbs stored in encrypted drawers, senior members of the family only privy to its ingredients.
There seems to be controversy among drinkers as to what pairs well with Strega. Some say it is a perfect rinse for cocktails, others rave about chocolate, citrus, apple, the cool cats from Brooklyn that I drank it with—and I suspect the way it is drunk in Benevento— preferred it on its own. I mucked around with concord grapes, the juice of blood orange, made a ghastly white Strega sour. My favorite was Strega with apple cider and pimm’s. Also I liked sipping it straight up as a digestivo, which it is.
You can use Strega in baking, popular in Italy in cookies and cakes. It is particularly good in a rich chocolate cake called torta caprese —chocolate, almonds and Strega liqueur, a perfect Halloween dessert, a witch’s cake if you will. And you will find Strega in Literature. In the book The Godfather by Mario Puzo, Tom Hagen is found in the study drinking Strega. Some liquid courage before he tells Don Coreleone of his sons’ demise.
A cautionary ending, lastly beware of this. Strega is a love potion; it has the power to bewitch. Legend has it, “whomever you share a glass with you shall be forever united with.” Perhaps the spookiest proposition or grand fortune depending on whom you are drinking with.