“The waiter recommended a Basque liquor called Izarra. He brought in the bottle and poured a liqueur-glass full. He said Izarra was a flower of the Pyrenees. The veritable flowers of the Pyrenees. It looked like hair-oil and smelled like Italian Strega.”
-Ernest Hemingway, The Sun Also Rises
What’s shakin’, cocktail fans? Welcome to Episode 274 of The Modern Bar Cart Podcast!
This time around, I’m joined by my friends Henry Preiss (of Preiss Imports) and Alain Royer, a duo of spirits experts sporting a collective CENTURY of wisdom in the distilling and import/export industry. They’re here to taste and talk me through an herbal liqueur from the Basque region of France that’s set to explode here in the US market with the highly allocated and restricted nature of green and yellow Chartreuse over the last year or two.
Izarra has a long and compelling history as a regional specialty from the mountainous borderlands at the junction of France and Spain, but it’s virtually unknown here in the US. However, if Henry and Alain have anything to say about it, this duo of alpine liqueurs is about to rise out of obscurity and make its mark on the cocktail world. But, before we start placing our bets on this herbal unicorn brand, let’s take a pause so that you can make yourself a drink.
In this spirited discussion with Alain Royer and Henry Preiss, some of the topics we discuss include:
- What precisely Izarra liqueur is and the geographic and cultural forces that allowed it to remain more of a regional specialty, while Chartreuse enjoyed wider exposure.
- How other specialty liqueurs, like Jaegermeister and Luxardo Maraschino, managed to burst the bonds of their relatively “niche” statuses and become heavyweights in the cocktail world.
- The unique culture and flavors of the Basque nation, a culture that transcends political and geographic boundaries and holds tenaciously to its own distinct identity even in today’s increasingly remixed and digital world.
- Then, of course, we taste through Izarra’s two flagship offerings: Izarra Verte and Izarra Jaune. We compare and contrast these spirits with their logical Chartreuse analogues and explore the best service methods and use cases for each.
- We wrap up the conversation by reviewing how Henry and his team are rolling out this beautiful duo of alpine liqueurs in liquor stores and bars across the country and give you some insights on how to get your hands on a bottle.
- Along the way, we cover the medicinal underpinnings of our contemporary genepies and amari, the crucial role of the Armagnac region in the production of these Basque spirits, the one Izarra product that didn’t quite survive the test of time, and much, much more.
I hope that, like me, you’ll soon have the opportunity to sample these two beautiful liqueurs and decide for yourself how they stack up against the 10,000-lb, 120-ingredient gorilla that is Chartreuse. Right now, they’re listed at Total Wine for about $60/bottle, so we’ll hope that price point stays somewhat durable over time.