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Luxardo Sambuca dei Cesari

Review: Sambuca dei Cesari (Luxardo)  84/100
a review by Chip Dykstra (Aka Arctic Wolf)
Posted June 22,  2014

Luxardo S.P.A. was founded in 1821 in Zara, a port city on the Dalmatian coast of what is now the Republic of Croatia. At the conclusion of World War II and as a consequence of the borders within Europe having been redrawn, the company transferred its holdings to Torreglia in 1947, and has remained an Italian Company, 100% controlled by the founding family. Today, Luxardo is one of the oldest European firms which produce liqueurs, and now almost 200 years after it was established, it remains in the control of the sixth generation of the original Luxardo family.

Sambuca dei Cesari is the licorice flavoured Sambuca produced by Luxardo. Like the well-known Greek licorice flavoured Ouzo, it is a sweet liqueur with a strong licorice flavour derived from the oils of the Star Anise. These oils are obtained from the seeds of this plant by a process of steam distillation. A concentrated solution of sugar and other natural aromas are added to this before bottling at 38 % alcohol by volume.

Luxardo SamIn the Bottle  3.5/5

The Sambuca dei Cesari is sold in a tall bar room style bottle shown to the left. The bottle is sealed with a metallic screw cap which unfortunately is prone to stripping. As well, if you happen to close the bottle with a few drips of the liqueur left over around the threads of the bottle, the sweet liqueur will crystallize and gum up those threads making the bottle extremely difficult to open a second time. When this happened to me I was forced to run hot water over the cap of the sealed bottle to loosen the gummed up threads. I admit these problems are common to the sweet liqueur category so it is hard to be harsh in my assessment. However, I also find that the bottle and the label look tired and dated. The look does not inspire me to believe anything special is in the bottle. In my opinion, both the bottle and the label could use an overhaul.

In the Glass 8.5/10

The liquid is crystal clear in the glass and has a thickened consistency. When I tilt the glass and twirl it, I see a thick gummy crest which does not release any legs. The thick crest is a strong indication of the spirit’s sugary sweetness.

When I take a bit of a sniff at the breezes above the glass this sweetness is confirmed as the wonderful aroma of black jelly beans leaps out of my glass. I remember as a kid when my mom would buy jelly beans and all of my older bothers and sisters would try to corner all of the colourful sweet candies before I could get at them. At first I would get bent out of shape (like all kids do). However, over time I came to realize that the black licorice flavoured jelly beans they left behind were by far my favourite.

In the Glass 52/60

The flavour of the Sambuca dei Cesari matches the aroma perfectly as the liqueur tastes just like a black jelly bean which has already melted in my mouth. I taste candied sweet black licorice with a hint of mintiness. Yumm! Just like those sweet jelly beans, the spirit can get cloying if you indulge too quickly; however as an after dinner treat, this is really quite delicious.

Note: I find myself pouring another sample glass and then another, so perhaps I am not finding the spirit nearly as cloying as its sweetness would imply.

In the Throat 12.5/15

The clear Sambuca is intensely sweet in the finish. and the palate is left coated with the flavour of sweet black jelly beans (without the telltale black smudges on the lips and tongue). I do notice a bit of an alcohol push in the finish, but I am not complaining. the flavour of black jelly beans coupled with a light kick to the tonsils is not a bad thing.

The Afterburn 8.5/10

The Sambuca dei Cesari is a nice indulgence. The flavour definitely runs to the extreme side of the sweetness chart; but that sweetness is balanced very well by an equally intense black licorice flavour. The liqueur is very nice on its own, and can also be used in a variety of shooters and even a few long drink cocktail recipes (see below)!

You may read some of my other Liqueur Reviews (click the link) if you wish to have some comparative reviews.


Suggested Recipe

Clarity SAM_1180Here is a nice refreshing recipe which mixes Sambuca dei Cesari with Lemonade. It is perfect for a warm sunny Sunday.


3/4 oz  Sambuca dei Cesari
1 oz Fresh Lemon Juice
3/4 oz sugar syrup
2 1/2 oz water
Lemon Slice

Add ice cubes to a tall Collins glass
In a mixing glass add the first four ingredients and stir
Strain over ice into the Collins glass
Garnish with a lemon slice

(This is unbelievably delicious!)

Note: If  you are interested in more of my cocktail recipes, please click this link (Cocktails and Recipes) for more of my mixed drink recipes!


I am sometimes asked what my numbers actually mean. In order to provide clarification, you may (loosely) interpret the scores as follows.

0-25     A spirit with a rating this low would actually kill you.
26-49   Depending upon your fortitude you might actually survive this.
50 -59  You are safe to drink this…but you shouldn’t.
60-69   Substandard swill which you may offer to people you do not want to see again.
70-74    Now we have a fair mixer.  Accept this but make sure it is mixed into a cocktail.
75-79    You may begin to serve this to friends, again probably still cocktail territory.
80-84    We begin to enjoy this spirit neat or on the rocks. (I will still primarily mix cocktails)
85-89    Excellent for sipping or for mixing!
90-94    Definitely a primary sipping spirit, in fact you may want to hoard this for yourself.
95-97.5 The Cream of the Crop
98+       I haven’t met this bottle yet…but I want to.

Very loosely we may put my scores into terms that you may be familiar with on a Gold, Silver, and  Bronze medal  scale as follows:

70 – 79.5    Bronze Medal (Recommended only as a mixer)
80 – 89.5     Silver Medal (Recommended for sipping and or a high quality mixer)
90 – 95         Gold Medal (Highly recommended for sipping and for sublime cocktails.)
95.5+            Platinum Award (Highest Recommendation)




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