Photo courtesy Becherovka
Made from a secret recipe of about 20 herbs and spices, Becherovka is a Czech liqueur with a history that’s just as rich and complex as its flavor.
Pronounced beck-ur-ohv-kuh, the spirit was invented when businessman and pharmacist Josef Vitus Becher began experimenting with liqueurs. The first product was sold in 1807 as “English Bitter,” a remedy for stomach illnesses.
In the U.S., Becherovka’s popularity grew following Prohibition, but in the 1940s, the communist government of then-Czechoslovakia limited exports of the spirit and forced Hedda Becher, a descendant of the founder, to disclose the secret recipe to the regime. She later began making a liqueur identical to Becherovka in West Germany and eventually sold it to the bitter-liqueur brand Underberg.
Becherovka was reprivatized in the late 1990s after nearly 60 years of being state-owned. In 2010, Becherovka, now owned by Pernod Ricard, opened a new distillery in Karlovy Vary, where the spirit was created.
What does Becherovka taste like?
Cloves and anise dominate Becherovka’s flavors, says Tomas Bohm, chef and owner of The Pantry Eateries in Little Rock, Arkansas. Bohm is a Czech Republic native and was born about 15 minutes from Karlovy Vary.
“It has a nice, sweet-forward flavor,” he says, but it finishes with a bit of bitterness from the cloves and then “a little bit of the licorice comes through,” from the anise. “I can tell you in my lifetime, I’ve drunk liters and liters of Becherovka.”
With all the herbs and spices, Becherovka offers a “blast of flavor,” says Ebony Austin, owner and head mixologist at Nouveau Bar & Grill in College Park and Jonesboro, Georgia. “Specifically, you’ll get a tingle of cloves and cinnamon.” The anise flavor is subtle, she says, not as intense as Jagermeister.
“It tastes like Christmas—baking spices, like cinnamon, citrus and ginger,” says Ashley Mac, bar manager of Nihao in Baltimore.
Bohm agrees that Becherovka features flavors that Americans associate with the holidays, like clove and cinnamon, but notes that people in the Czech Republic drink it all year.