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Monday December 3, 2012

How to be an old soak in Mallorca

With winter knocking on the door and much of Majorca on the brink of hibernation, it’s understandable that many a British expat makes all haste to the home country for a little life and cheer.

Of course there are those of us that cherish these months of blissful tranquility when the resorts slumber, fires crackle in the grate, and the silver plane trees stand denuded in town and village plaças. Tender new grass as soft as baby hair smothers orchards and fields, heavy with early morning dew, and the air hangs heavy with the scent of rosemary, thyme and aromatic wood smoke.

In the rural areas during this period of gentle repose patxaran comes into its own. This sloe-flavoured liqueur, originating from the Navarra region of Spain where it has been a popular tipple since the Middle Ages, is brewed by many a local in the run up to Christmas. Of course in England we are more familiar with sloe gin but here in Majorca, the tiny purple-black berries of the spiky blackthorn shrub –prunus spinosa or aranyoner, as it is known in Majorca-are soaked in a good quality anisette with sugar and often a few coffee beans and a vanilla pod to make patxaran. After a respectable period of reflection, the liquid is poured through a sieve and stored carefully until time for celebration.

My Majorcan friend Joan Bauza, aside from being an accomplished tour guide, is quite an expert in the art of making sloe liqueur and recently found a wonderful booty of sloe berries in the Torrent d’Orient here in the northwest of the island. He combined them with the famed Anis del Mono –‘monkey’s anisette’ – a historic brand whose iconic label dating from 1902, has curiously superimposed the face of Darwin onto the head of a monkey. Joan is in the process of brewing his patxaran and in anticipation of its completion I have already vulgarly asked if he’ll invite me over for a draught or three.

Once he talks me through the entire soaking process and before the abundant sloes give up the ghost to frost, I shall set about making a variety of patxaran for myself. The prospect of becoming an old soak during these bracing winter months appeals greatly. As they say, if you can’t beat them, why ever not join them?

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