After spending a little time in Sardinia, you’ll soon come across the popular liquor Mirto, which is made from the Myrtle berry. It is commonly consumed as a digestivo (digestive), adding a sweet finish after a meal or as an ‘ammazzacaffe’ following a bitter coffee, but is popular to drink in Sardinian bars too.
It is served in every restaurant in Sardinia, after a meal a shot of Mirto or grappa is typically offered.
The drink is only ever served chilled, sometimes a bartender will ask if you want ice, but from my experience, this dilutes the distinctive Mirto taste. An aroma of sweet herbs, and dried fruits, with a slightly bitter aftertaste of almonds.
The traditional Sardinian liquor is also popular in neighbouring Corsica, known as Licor di Mortula in Corsican. The myrtle berry grows freely in both islands, legend says that bandits from Sardinia introduced the beverage after spending time in Corsica.
There are two varieties of Mirto. The red Mirto is more common and sweeter made from the black myrtle berries, whereas the Mirto Bianco is made with the berries of the white variety myrtle berries, or the leaves of the plant, and has even more powerful digestive properties.
The myrtle berry grows throughout the Mediterranean basin but thrives in Sardinia and Corsica. This distinctive plant was also used by the Greeks, because of its restorative properties. Even actor George Clooney drinks Mirto when in Sardinia, he believes it makes him look younger. In ancient times the plant would adorn Roman and Greek temples to bring good luck, later rediscovered again during the middle ages for its perfume and healing powers.
The berries are collected traditionally before Christmas, but they are ripe anytime from December to January. The myrtle berries have a blue-violet colour, reminiscent of blueberries.
How Mirto Is Made
Mirto is not difficult to produce, and many Sardinians still today collect the berries and produce their own supply of this Sardinian elixir. Mirto is made by infusing an alcoholic base such as Vodka, with fresh myrtle berries for 8 weeks, so the flavours can soak into the alcohol, as does the myrtle pigment. Sugar is made into a syrup before being added to the mix, some may use honey as a substitute. Later, it is filtered, pressed, and bottled.
The alcoholic percentage normally rests around the 30% mark.
The is even a yearly celebration of this sweet liquor, held in the village of Telti, near Olbia in August.
Don’t leave Sardinia without trying this gem, afterwards you’ll want to bring a bottle home.