An uneasy relationship with Pacharan

Over the years I have had an uneasy relationship with Pacharan.

I am not able to remember the first time I drank it but I know that it was with Katie & Simon and the likelihood is that we were in Madrid and it was the first time that we visited them, more than twenty years ago. They lived in the north of the city in the district of Tetuan. We spent Christmas there and burnt the turkey having confused the knobs on the oven and turning the grill on instead of the main oven.

There was a bar near where they lived called The Anchor and we ate there in its comedor or dining room a couple of times. One meal I had there was shoulder of lamb and that is all that arrived on my plate slathered in garlic and olive oil with a couple of token fried pieces of potato on a dish to the side. At the end of the meal a waiter would come over holding a strange square dimpled bottle. Four glasses were produced for the table. Each glass would have in it a single large ice cube and over that he poured a shot of a dark sweet tasting liquour that we soon learnt was called Pacharan.

I think we had just the one or two glasses that evening but the night went on and we went into town and stayed out until late in the morning and so I developed a taste for nights kick started by a dose of Pacharan.

Over the next few years we went back to Madrid three times. Two of those trips were to use it as a stopping off point for trips to the south, to Cadiz and Granada and the final trip was a long weekend in the city.

For the final two visits Katie & Simon had moved into an apartment in the Opera District around the corner from The Plaza Mayor. Each of those visits would feature an evening with us all drinking Pacharan and inevitably we were pulled in by its easy taste and sweetness and would drink too much.

It needs to be drunk cold and on ice so that the sweetness is cut and softened which is why it is important there should be thick cubes of ice in the glass. After the first glass the overwhelming sweetness dissipates  and it becomes easier to drink.

It is basically a form of sloe gin. The spirit is sweetened and flavoured with aniseed and perhaps some coffee beans or cinnamon before being poured over the fruit to steep. There are a number of different brands but the most recognisable and ubiquitous is Zoco.

This is the stuff that comes in the four sided bottle.

With the help of Google translate their web-site tells us that :-

The pacharán longer part of the lives of Navarre in the Middle Ages and was recognized and appreciated by them.

One of the major players in the celebrations of the era, such as royal weddings, drinks also was used by members of the court because of its medicinal properties. The White Queen of Navarre, for example, took this liquor for healing the sick in the Monastery of St. Mary of the Snows in the year 1441.

However it was not until the nineteenth century when it began to be used the term “Pacharán”. At that time, the presence of pacharaneras selling sloes in Pamplona markets became very common.

Currently, it remains a deeply rooted and widespread in these lands drink but is also gaining recognition within and outside our country say Pacharán Navarro is to say Pacharán Souk.

On those visits to Madrid I began to take on an appreciation of morning after Pacharan. Those mornings on waking up after a bottle had been finished by too few of us and we all had to try find ourselves back in the world. There are supposed to be medicinal qualities associated with the stuff but after a good evening all that goes out of the window and the only medicine needed is a head in the sand.

I found that a cure for a Pacharan hangover was a long walk through the Prado with pauses in front Hieronymous Bosch’s Vision of Hell and then at the end Goya’s black paintings. Giants rising from the land and tearing the people apart with their teeth. A fair approximation of the queasiness that swelled through me after a late night out.

We would bring bottles home with us and put in orders with friends going to Spain on their holidays. So there was often a bottle at home to be brought out late in the evening of a dinner party or taken on holiday and drunk on the first night. And always there was the same morning after and the queasiness that went with it.

On our last late afternoon in El Molino we took a walk up to the bar in the hills in Fuente Del Comte where we had had our first unexpected lunch. We sat outside and had a beer and behind us the country and the rows of olive trees bent down with the weight of their fruit stretched out to the horizon. We drank our beer and finished it and someone suggested a glass of Pacharan.

Eight of them were brought out on a tray. They came in their marked up Zoco glasses in which there sat a cube of ice slowly diluting the dark brown liquor. We sat and talked and as the light leaked from the sky we had a second glass and then we talked some more.

When the second glass was finished we went into the bar to pay and I negotiated the purchase of one of the marked Zoco glasses to take home with me. At the same time a bottle was bought for us take back with us to the house and drink through during our last evening in Spain.

Back at home I still have at least three bottles hidden in the basement. I keep them away from sight knowing the temptation to drink more once the bottle is opened.


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