The magic number

Pub date September 4, 2007

The magic number

"Forty-three" — as in Bush 43, as distinguished from Bush 41, a.k.a. Poppy — is a number that will live in infamy, for reasons I need hardly mention. And 41, father of disastrous 43, isn’t likely to do much better. On the other hand, 41 can’t claim to be part of the name of a fabulous liqueur, while 43 can. Licor 43 ( is the name of this Spanish elixir, a small glass of which was poured to me recently as a postprandial treat and immediately won me over.

Of course, I am susceptible to being won over by such treats. A little after-dinner hit of port or cognac or calvados — something slightly sweet or hinting at sweetness, with some substance, and strong enough to require sipping rather than permit swilling — is a graceful way of scratching the dessert itch, and there can never be too many options here if obesity is to be staved off. Licor 43, which has been bottled by Diego Zamora in Cartagena for more than 80 years, bears a certain resemblance to cream sherry, another product from the south of Spain. Both are rich, sweet, and of a yellowish color — all attractive qualities for a libation that must fill dessert’s big shoes.

The differences between the two (apart from the fact that sherry is fortified wine and Licor 43 isn’t) largely have to do with degree. Licor 43 is yellower, thicker, sweeter, and stronger — considerably stronger — than any sherry. At 31 percent alcohol, it isn’t quite as potent as cognac or other brandies (which are typically 40 percent alcohol), but it packs half again as much punch as the fortified wines. These seldom exceed 20 percent alcohol.

Mixologists’ wisdom suggests that Licor 43 is suitable for blending into a wide variety of drinks, most with whimsical names, but it was presented to me straight up, slightly chilled, in a sherry glass, and was distinctive enough to stand on its own. According to lore, the liqueur has been made for centuries from a secret blend of citrus fruits and spices, and the bouquet is indeed citrusy. On the mouth, the first impression is of vanilla, with a not-quite-honeylike weight and sweetness. If somebody distilled a liqueur from orange-blossom honey, it might taste something like this.

Oh 43, are you listening?

Paul Reidinger