Hierbas (pronounced yerra-bus) is a liqueur synonymous with the island and with the Ibizan people. Originally a peasant drink, with just about every family having their own differing and closely guarded recipes, Hierbas has been around in one form or another for over two centuries. Tan-orange in colour, the most distinctive elements of this drink are its smell and its aniseed taste, which comes from the herb anise.
There is not a single bar, café, restaurant or hotel on Ibiza which does not these days keep a stock of Hierbas, such is its popularity amongst the locals and those visitors lucky enough to discover it. And it's not simply a pleasant alcoholic drink - the Ibicencs swear by its legendary health-improving benefits. In fact, they have a point, and the properties of Hierbas are more than mere myth. Aside from aniseed for flavour, Hierbas contains Rosemary (good for fighting rheumatism) and Thyme (to relieve coughs). As an aid to digestion it is considered incomparable, and many an evening meal is finished off with a glass or two of this heady medicinal brew.
At the majority of restaurants and eateries on Ibiza, the proprietors may well invite you to a drink on the house at the end of your meal. This is a perfect opportunity to try the Hierbas, traditionally served in a fat brandy-glass over ice. By the way, all the ice on Ibiza is made from good drinking water. Long gone are the days when you needed to worry about all that.
The other way to drink Hierbas is as a 'chupito', which is basically a small shot glass of the real amber nectar, without ice. Great with a coffee at pretty much any time of the day or night (you are on holiday, after all).Hierbas is made through distilling molasses and wine for the base and then mixing pure aromas from the fruits, seeds and leaves of as many as 18 different herbs and plants. The end result is 30º proof, so a little heavier than a fortified wine, and rather less than a spirit like whisky or vodka. As such, Hierbas can be enjoyed without too much fear of a pounding head the following morning.
Although many of the families on Ibiza still maintain their own recipes and brew them at home, the one family who have made what was once a cottage industry into one of international renown, and have indeed won many awards for their products, are Mari Mayans, whose name you will see on bottles, not to mention the sides of their vans, pretty much everywhere. Make sure to take some home with you. Reasonably priced, you can pick up a bottle or three from any bodega (off-licence) or in the duty free at the airport.
A relatively new experience on Ibiza is the make-your-own-Hierbas trip. For around 30 euros, at last checking, you get a day out on a finca (farm) with a picnic, lessons in Hierbas-making, and your very own, unlabelled, bottle to take home. Your bottle will include not only your own Hierbas, but a sprig of fennel or some other herb, for that unique Ibicenc touch.
That's another thing to keep an eye out for. In many bars, along with the usual Mari Mayans labelled bottles, there is often a large square bottle of home-made Hierbas on the bar itself. Distinctive for the herbs floating in the liquid and the little brass tap on the bottom of the bottle, these can vary in strength and flavour all over the island, and are well worth a try.