Monday, January 12, 2009

From Tuscany With Love

Tuaca's a curious animal. With its small clear bottle and amber color, it looks at first glance like a beer. Perhaps a Mexican beer, given the name and the font on the label. But Tuaca is an Italian liqueur from Tuscany, and it is getting a big marketing push right now.

I confess I knew nothing of this beverage when it arrived in the mail last month. The oracles of publicity tell me it is a liqueur of ancient provenance, possibly created during the Renaissance for none other than Lorenzo the Magnificent, great art patron and ruler of Florence. They further tell me that G.I. Joes stationed in Livorno during WWII drank their fair share of the stuff, and it arrived in the U.S. in the late '50s. This all sounds like a bit of eyewash, but who knows?

So, what is it? "A premium Italian liqueur with a hint of citrus and vanilla." Hint, my eye. This silky, viscous stuff is all about orange and vanilla. There's no avoided the two tastes as it coats your throat. The drink is brandy-based. It's basically a kind of Italian Grand Marnier, with vanilla thrown in. Just not as good.

If I was in Livorno, sitting at a cafe and it was a really hot day, and someone brought me a chilled shot of Tuaca, I'd probably think it was great. But, you know, I'm not.

Like all liqueurs out there now, Tuaca wants to be claimed and loved by the cocktail crowd. The website suggest plenty of drinks to try. Some are well left alone, like the Tuaca Dreamsicle, made of Tuaca, triple sec and vanilla ice cream. (Not a drink to breed good habits among the young.) Tuacacolada, Tuacarita, Tuaca Sour and Tuaca and Cola kind of explain themselves. Many of the cocktail recipes add Triple Sec to the Tuaca, which, to my mind, is like bringing coals to Newcastle. How much orange flavor do you need in a drink?

A Tuscan Mule sounds a bit more promising. A spin on the Moscow Mule, it substitutes ginger ale for the ginger beer. Still, this could be a good drink. Overall, however, I'll leave it to the bartenders to come up with better Tuaca libations than this, ones that aren't so keen on using as much Tuaca in a cocktail as possible, or in keeping things sweet and syrupy and appealing to the "Sex and the City" crowd. Tuaca has such a dominating flavor, in a cocktail it should back a backseat to another anchor spirit.


Anonymous said...

I have to disagree with the Grand Marnier comparison. Surely Tuaca's vapid vanilla vacuousness can't compare to the classic drink defining flavors of Grand Marnier, Cointreau, Benedictine, and other great liqueurs?

I find Tuaca soft-flavored and a little dull. It's all about vanilla for me, with the orange sort of filling things out.

I don't dislike it exactly, but I've never found a compelling use for it. There are numerous other liqueurs I'd rather drink straight, and compared to most liqueurs it seems to lack the punch required to compete with most spirits.

I guess it would add a pleasantly warm glow if mixed with or cognac or rum in a snifter?

Some of the marketing is bizarre. According a blurb I read somewhere Tuaca's 'complex herbal flavor' (what?!?) has made it a popular shot among macho wild guys, something along the lines of how some see Fernet Branca.

Robert Simonson, "Our Man in the Liquor-Soaked Trenches"-New York Times. said...

You are no doubt right, Seamus. I probably doesn't deserve to be compared to Grand Marnier. I was being a little flip, I'm afraid.