Now that winter is at our doorstep and the temperatures are getting colder, people tend to turn to alcohol to bring some warmth to their face and hands. If you are in Malta, or planning to get here soon, you might want to stay away from your traditional whiskies and wines, and try something more unique. The following are Maltese liqueurs worth considering:
The bajtra (pronounced ‘baitra’) is the prickly pear, a tree that thrives on the Maltese islands. Prickly pear trees were originally popular because farmers planted them to act as windbreakers and also to bar access from one field to another, serving as a deterrent to most wanderers. However, it also became popular due to the belief that it contains medicinal properties, with prickly pears being used to treat a vast array of ailments, ranging from insect stings to stomach aches. August is usually the harvest season of prickly pears, with locals eating the sweet, refreshing prickly pear fruit by the dozens.
It stands to reason that the abundant prickly pears were put to better use by forming a sweet-tasting liqueur, perfect for an aperitif or an after-dinner drink to round up the day. The Bajtra Liqueur is best served chilled, with no ice added to it.
The Pomegranate tree (Rummiena) is also found in abundance on the Maltese islands. While it is not indigenous to the island, it was introduced centuries ago and thrived in this climate. Like the prickly pear, the pomegranate has also been considered to contain healing properties. A number of shrines dedicated to Il-Madonna tar-Rummiena (Our Lady of the Pomegranate) reveal another association with this crimson fruit: abundance.
The Maltese liqueur produced from local pomegranate provides all the sweet and tart flavours that make the crimson fruit so unique. Best served chilled, on the rocks, or as a base for any creative cocktails you can come up with. Sit down and get your cogs turning!
The carob tree (il-Ħarruba) has been an integral part of Maltese vegetation for centuries. Due to its ability to survive on little water and with no cultivation, it is quite a common tree in Malta. The fruit’s beans and pods have had a variety of uses. During World War II, the beans formed part of the diet of the locals who were slowly starving to death due to a food shortage. Up until fairly recently, carob beans were crushed and boiled to produce a syrupy liquid, which was then used for sore throats and coughs. The carob pods are still used to this day to make carob sweets (karamelli), by mixing carob pods and honey until caramelised. These small brown squares of healthy goodness are usually available during Good Friday processions, as they are the only sweets allowed during Lent.
The Ħarruba liqueur is only another way of enjoying the sweet taste of carobs. This liqueur can be served chilled, on the rocks, or also neat, and it is best served after a meal, to close on a sweet note.
The Limunċell is the Maltese version of the popular Italian Limoncello, a liqueur made from local lemons. Its zesty taste is the perfect end to a meal.
If you would like to try something different, and make your own limuncell, drop by The Limestone Heritage, Park and Gardens in Siggiewi. One of their venues is a citrus garden, where guests are allowed to participate in making limuncell. First, the visitors are given a detailed demonstration. Then, fresh lemons are picked from the trees and the zest peeled off. This is then put into jars and immersed in alcohol, ready to be stored for two weeks. The peeled lemons are used to make refreshing lemonade and lemon sorbet, with lemonade and limuncell shots being served to guests during this activity.
All these bottles of liqueur cost less than €20, making it an affordable memento to carry back home with you. Moreover, the sturdy, cleverly designed packaging of most of these liqueurs make them ideal souvenirs for your loved ones back home.