Anís is an aniseed flavoured alcoholic drink – it’s the Spanish equivalent of French pastis, Greek ouzo, Italian sambuca or Turkish raki. Before beer became the Spanish man’s drink of choice the typical libation for working men was either wine or anís. Anís is usually taken with water, which means that it’s a good summer drink – plenty of alcohol and plenty of volume.  Obviously enough, varying the proportion of water to booze gives you a range of strengths and a range of lengths. With water the clear anís turns cloudy white so the local Spanish name for it, paloma, like a white dove, is reasonably obvious. There’s a lemon flavoured, yellow coloured, version of anís too. With water we get a canario. No translation required I suspect. If it’s good for summer, it’s also good for winter – a splash of anís in your first coffee of the day helps take off that morning chill.

Being old and paunchy, I still drink Spanish anís from time to time. I prefer the dry to the sweet version though the one with lemon syrup added is pretty nice too. I don’t imagine that it’s a popular drink with younger Spanish drinkers – turning up to the Saturday night botellón with a bottle of anís would probably be social suicide. Anís is almost certainly a drink for the older, and more portly, though one of the urban myths about anís is that the sales hold up because lots of women, still shackled to the kitchen, use anís in any number of cake and biscuit recipes and are prone to take the odd nip as they cook.

If you live around here, in Alicante, you’ll have bumped into Anís Tenis. It’s made nearby in Monforte del Cid and so the drink’s makers turn up with a promotional stall at lots of local fiestas. They give away free hats and small glasses of anís. Another local brand is Anís Solis. They have an advert painted on the side of a house on the slip road from the Aspe to Elche road and that’s proved very effective in reminding me that I have run out and should buy some more.

On a tour of the winery at Mañan the other week the guide told us that Mañan became a village when five rich families from Monóvar decided to build summer houses there. Mañan is a bit higher than Monóvar so the summer nights are cooler. One of the families, she said, included  the person whose factory produced the original Anís del Mono. When she told us that I didn’t really believe her.  After all the Catalan produced, Anís del Mono is a bit of a Spanish institution. It’s celebrity is not so much for the drink as for the name, the label and the bottle. 

The brothers, Jose and Vicente Bosch, set up a factory in Badalona, in 1870, to make anis. Fourteen years later, in 1884, a cholera epidemic swept through Spain. Monóvar, the town just down the road from Culebrón, became briefly famous because it didn’t have a single case of cholera. By some convoluted thinking, the townspeople decided that this was because they drank the local anís (made by the firm of one of the families who built the houses in Mañan). As an obvious result, sales of the anís shot up. A bit like Trump recommending bleach. When they were asking for this drink the locals saved vocal effort by ordering a “mono”, short for Monóvar.

Up in Badalona José Bosch, like lots of other Spaniards, heard this tale and realised that the name Anís del Mono could give his anís a marketing advantage over other brands. It’s a bit of a strange name because mono translates as monkey – Monkey’s Anís. I suppose it’s a bit whimsical, a bit of a talking point. Anyway the Bosches must have liked it because they ordered up a batch of labels, featuring the name, from a French company. Like most foreigners the French proved to be bad spellers in someone else’s language. They made a typo in the labels spelling “destillación” with two Ls when, in Spanish, it only has one. Catalans have a reputation for being good at business, and the labels were used, so I suspect there was quite a lot of hard bargaining about the label price. When it came to reprinting Anis del Mono stuck with the print error. There was more fancifulness, another bit of a wheeze for their label. The label features a monkey, but the monkey has a human face. People say it’s the face of Charles Darwin who had published his “On the Origin of Species” a few years before. The kerfuffle –  religious, political and social – about whether people shared a heritage with monkeys was still in full swing. The Bosches must have reckoned that if people talked about their label they’d probably take a drink at the same time. And also on the label is a scroll that reads – “La ciencia lo dijo y yo no miento,” which is something like “science said it and I don’t lie,” That could be to do with the supposedly “scientifically proven” merits of mono to stave off cholera or it could be related to Darwin’s theories.

Oh, and the bottle features a raised diamond pattern in the glass. Believe it or not this has made the bottle a typical Christmas musical instrument. People rub something against the bottle to produce a sound as they sing their Christmas carols. Bizarre as it may sound it’s true. I’ve seen it more than once.

As Jose and Vicente Bosch might say. “Buy a bottle, check it out”. And, while you’re checking that out if you liked this entry there are more, in a similar style, at Life in Culebrón