Much like the grapes that are used to produce wine, Myrtle is an essential plant for Sardinian people and their traditions. It’s much more than a decoration for gardens: its fragrance is the telltale signal to be “home” for so many; its leaves are used to season typical Sardinian dishes such as the roasted piglet (maialetto arrosto) and its berries are carefully picked up every year to make one of the Sardinian typical liquors: Mirto.
You will probably try this liquor during your travels in Sardinia, as it’s almost a fixed presence in every household, restaurant, and bar. They’ll likely offer you a shot of Mirto after a meal, but it’s not uncommon to drink it just because – during meals, aperitif, or just to “try it, it’s delicious”.
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What Is The Mirto Fruit And Where Is It Found?
Myrtle is a common Mediterranean bush, found especially in Sardinia. The plant, despite being quite resistant once it sets its roots, requires specific terrain to flourish. The berries can usually be harvested twice a year, thanks to the myrtle’s double blooming cycle.
Despite recent projects to start myrtle farms, this plant is a wild bush, that grows in the inland, sheltered from the wind by the typical Sardinian oaks and olive trees. If it finds the ideal conditions, it can live up to several centuries. The myrtle has a typical fragrance that can not be confused with any other plant and can be smelled from miles apart.
How Is Mirto Liquor Made?
Like every traditional dish from any part of the world, the mirto liquor has a general recipe – let’s say the guidelines and basics are commonly accepted – but every town and family make their own version (and claims it’s the best of all!).
You can make about 3 liters (0.8 gallons) of liquor from a kg of myrtle berries. You need the berries, 1 liter (about 1/4 gallon) of pure alcohol (90°), 2 liters (about half a gallon) of water, and sugar or honey – the suggested dose is 600 grams (3 cups) but it depends on how sweet you want the liquor to be.
You need to rinse the berries and clean them from any dust and leftover leaves, and then let them dry for two-three days. Once dried, put them inside a glass container (it needs to be hermetic – possibly a bottle), and cover them with alcohol.
You shouldn’t squeeze the berries and need to leave some space (about 3 cm) between the berries and the container’s edge. Now you need to let the berries and alcohol macerate for about 40 to 50 days.
Once this time has passed, filter the mixture and put the liquid in smaller bottles. You can filter it once or twice, depending on how pure you want it to be. Then make a syrup with water and sugar and mix it with the liquor. Leave it to rest for another two weeks.
Remember that the berries and the liquor need to rest in a dark and dry place, both times.
What’s The Alcohol Percentage In Mirto?
Homemade Mirto has often a stronger alcohol percentage – drink it with caution! – but the ones that you can find on a supermarket shelf usually have around 30% – 32% alcohol. It’s not a light liquor, but in most cases, you won’t notice how strong it is, since it can be very sweet. Be careful not to have too much of it, post-mirto hangovers are quite common!
How Do Locals Drink It?
Mirto is considered a digestive and is often offered/consumed after a meal, but it’s actually quite a versatile liquor. Many drink it as an aperitivo, and several traditional recipes also use mirto as an ingredient – especially for Sardinian pastries. One of my favorite restaurants in Cagliari makes a mirto tiramisù that is absolutely heavenly!
Despite the different opinions on how and when to drink it, all Sardinian agree on the fact that mirto has to be stored in a freezer, served cold, and enjoyed with friends and family.
Best Commercial Brands Of Mirto
Any Sardinian will tell you that homemade mirto is the best – and their homemade mirto is the best of the best – but also, they won’t let you bring a bottle home, it’s their precious homemade mirto (just kidding!).
In case you want to buy some of this delicious liquor, the best brands you can look for on the shelves in all Sardinian supermarkets are Zedda Piras, Contadino, Bresca Dorada, Pure Sardinia, Silvio Carta. They all offer different sizes and varieties of mirto.
Many brands sell pretty, original bottles that you can keep as a decoration for your shelves at home; some of them are handmade colored, and some others are made with cork wood. There are hundreds of unique bottles to bring home!