Unveiling the Art of Hierbas: A Time-Honored Spanish Tradition
Hierbas, or 'Hierbas Ibicencas', stands as a cherished emblem of Spanish heritage, emanating from the sun-kissed Balearic Islands, with a special nod to the enchanting isle of Ibiza. This herbal liqueur, steeped in tradition, is as much a celebration of history as it is of flavor. Its origins can be traced back to the 1500s when local monks attuned to the healing properties of their native flora, began experimenting with distillation techniques.
Over centuries, these practices evolved, passing from monastic cloisters to local farmers, becoming an integral part of island life. The result is a spirit that not only tantalizes the palate but also encapsulates the Mediterranean's lush landscape. The diverse array of herbs used in Hierbas, each flourishing under the warm Mediterranean sun, infuses the liqueur with a complexity that mirrors the rich, varied tapestry of Ibicencan culture itself.
The vibrant flavors and aromas of Hierbas are a testament not just to the botanical bounty of the region but to the enduring legacy of a craft that has been perfected over generations, remaining a treasured link to the past and a beloved part of contemporary life in the Balearics.
The Roots of Hierbas
The tradition of Hierbas is rooted in the history of the Balearic Islands, especially Ibiza. Originating centuries ago, it was initially concocted by the local monastic orders, farmers, and herbalists knowledgeable in the medicinal qualities of native herbs, primarily as a digestif.
By the 1800s the techniques employed in its creation had found their way from the religious orders to the local families, when it became the local staple spirit. For hundreds of years now, the recipes have been maintained by local families who keep their specific ingredients and processes secret.
A Floral Symphony of Flavor
The core of Hierbas is its intricate blend of herbs, fruits, and spices, each contributing its unique profile to the liqueur. While recipes may vary widely, most include at least some combination of the following:
- Star Anise: The foundational flavor, providing a sweet and aromatic base.
- Rosemary: Adding a woody, evergreen scent.
- Fennel: With its anise-like quality, it enhances the sweetness and adds complexity.
- Juniper: Contributing a sharp, pine-like aroma.
- Lemon Verbena: For a touch of citrusy freshness.
- Thyme: Offering earthy and slightly minty notes.
- Lavender: Known for its fragrant, floral accent.
- Peppermint: Adding a cool, refreshing twist.
- Sage: For a slightly peppery, savory edge.
Local ingredients such as orange and lemon leaves might also be included, lending a subtle, citrusy undertone to the blend. Most families add or remove ingredients with a nod to their own taste and tradition.
A Craft Process For Hundreds of Years
Creating Hierbas begins with the meticulous selection and preparation of the botanicals. While some of the herbs are hardy and grow perennially, many must be harvested in a shorter window of time, once per year. Producers must plan each year to ensure availability.
While global warming has affected the Mediterranean in several negative ways, one beneficiary is the extended ripening season of many of the ingredients in Hierbas. Holy Seed Beverage Group, the producer of Basbas, believes our environment is as important as the artisans who craft Basbas. We are a member of 1% for the Planet, are completely carbon offset, and are a supporter of the IBI Foundation, dedicated to cleaning the waters of Ibiza.
In the Spirit of Neutrality
A few of the largest producers of hierbas distill their own base spirit, which is usually an agricultural-origin ethyl alcohol – really any neutral spirit derived from wheat, barley, or corn will do. Because the authentic Hierbas begins its life as a neutral spirit, the end product is naturally gluten-free, unless the artisan adds a glutinous grain during the maceration process.
The next step is maceration. The herbs, fruits, and spices are macerated in the neutral spirit, often for several weeks, allowing a full infusion of flavors and aromas.
Basbas uses a special maceration technique in which the ingredients are blended during an extended aging process. This is unique in our category. Many family recipes required only a 10-14 day maceration. The Basbas Premium Heirbas technique calls for a trade secret extended aging wherein ingredients are added and removed in a precisely timed ballet that creates the extra smooth balancing that is Basbas over several months. It is to this proprietary technique that Basbas owes its distinction as the most awarded hierbas in the world.
After maceration, the mixture is strained, and sweetened traditionally with local honey or raw sugar. This results in three main types: 'Dulce' (sweet), 'Mixta' (medium sweetness), and 'Seca' (dry). Basbas is of the mixta variety.
Aging to Perfection
Some Hierbas are aged in wooden barrels, which mellows the flavors and adds depth. The aging duration varies, with some connoisseurs preferring the bold taste of a younger Hierbas, while others favor the richness of an aged one.
A Cultural Emblem
Hierbas continues to be a symbol of hospitality and celebration in Spanish culture, particularly in the Balearic Islands. It's a drink that embodies the spirit of the Mediterranean – wild, aromatic, and full of life. Indeed, the name Basbas is derived from the Euskara word “Bas” meaning “wild”. Basbas is a toast and an incantation that replaces the traditional “cheers” and evokes the wild botanicals within and the wild people that produce it.
Some say cheers. We say Basbas!