A newsletter for the industry pro (or aspiring pro).

Cocktails

Spain’s Homegrown Highball, the Butano, Is Ready to Rally

July 06, 2023

Story: Rafael Tonon

photo: Tiago Maya

Cocktails

Spain’s Homegrown Highball, the Butano, Is Ready to Rally

July 06, 2023

Story: Rafael Tonon

photo: Tiago Maya

The 1980s Basque staple is citrusy, herbal and refreshing.

For centuries, pacharán (or patxaran, in Basque), the Spanish liqueur made from macerated sloe berries and anisette, was known only as an antacid. But just like gin and absinthe before it, the spirit has since crossed over from the apothecary counter to the backbar. The digestif, which was popular in Spain’s Navarre region, transformed into an after-dinner drink served at weddings and celebrations as early as the 15th century, and then, centuries later, became a key ingredient in modern cocktails.

The Butano, an easy-drinking mixture of orange soda with a measure of pacharán floated on top, was one of them. In the 1980s, the cocktail became ubiquitous in the Navarre city of Pamplona during the local festival of San Fermín, which celebrates the area’s co-patron saint. Rather than drink the liqueur neat, as they had been for years, locals decided to mix it with everything from cava to manzanilla sherry, and even milk. But it was diluting pacharán with orange soda that best stood the test of time: The acidic citrus balanced the herbal anise notes of the pacharán, and the Butano became a favorite among locals. The drink’s name comes from the way that cans of orange soda look like cans of butane; adding the sparkling mixer also brings gas (carbon dioxide) to the mix.

Recipes

Navarrico

Fluffy orange juice stands in place of orange soda in this riff on the Basque highball.

When Alf del Portillo and Marta Premoli decided to open Quattro Teste—a Lisbon bar merging del Portillo’s Basque roots and Premoli’s Italian heritage—they wanted to feature drinks that were popular in their homelands but “didn’t get the recognition they deserve” worldwide, according to del Portillo. The menu features a Kalimotxo and an Angelo Azzurro, and del Portillo felt that a version of the Butano, an underrated Spanish drink, was a must-have, too. When he first tasted the highball, 20 years ago at the San Fermín festival, “the mix of the pacharán with orange soda was so refreshing that it blew my mind,” he recalls. 

At Quattro Teste, instead of the typical Kas Naranja, Fanta or other commercial soda, the bar takes a contemporary approach to the drink, calling on fluffy fresh orange juice. They also add an Italian bitter liqueur and homemade apple cider vinegar to the mix for balance and “to tone down the sweetness a little,” says del Portillo. Because pacharán can be harder to find outside of Europe, to make the drink stateside, he suggests using another anise spirit such as sambuca, pastis or arak in combination with sloe gin, which is also made from sloe berries. 

Del Portillo describes his riff, called the Navarrico, as a cross between the Butano and the Garibaldi, with the pacharán’s notes of anise and warm spice shining through. For him, it’s a perfect summer cocktail, light and refreshing while calling on unique, unusual flavors. “It’s one more take on the Basque (and Spanish, in general) quest to ‘highball’ absolutely everything, making cocktails lighter and more drinkable,” he explains. And that means the Butano is ready to be enjoyed all season long: “Since it is a drink crafted on the streets, it is meant to be still consumed in the streets, parks and [anywhere] outdoors.”

Related Articles

Tagged: culture