Licorice Wine Thread

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Feb 25, 2017
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My fascination with creating a licorice wine began with trips to Denmark to visit my wife's family. Licorice is popular in the Scandinavian countries, and I tasted a variety of concoctions, including a very good "salty licorice" flavored liquor called Ga-Jol Yellow.

This got me to thinking about the possibilities of making a wine in which licorice was a significant base ingredient.

A fellow home winemaker suggested I start with a licorice extract called erk soos - a popular (usually NON-alcoholic drink) from the Levant. Basically, you mix licorice root with sodium bicarbonate, and seep in water for a spell. The resulting extract is dark, earthy smelling, and very VERY sweet.

In the next following posts, I'm going to document my attempts, whether they result in success or not.
This is the "base" I'm using for my first attempt: the erk soos created by soaking licorice root with sodium bicarbonate. The first is a "before" shot. The second is the licorice extract strained into a container after two days of seeping. The total amount of extract came to 3/4 of a liter. I mixed this with black tea and brown sugar to a starting gravity that equates to a 12% alcohol content if fermented to dryness.


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Right now, this wine is sitting in secondary until it's time for the second racking.

Taste notes in primary were similar to sweet black coffee. Of course, I expect this to change drastically as the wine reaches dryness. This is more headspace than I usually allow for secondary, but I'm not gonna sweat it...I've let a couple of the slow settlers go for a while with more space than this. I'm going to let this one sit for two weeks, rack, then post another taste update.

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For the most part, my licorice/tea wine has cleared, and I'm just waiting for the last bit of sediment.

Color-wise, this concoction is (surprise) dark brown. The taste makes me think of Colonial Era furniture, Cracker Barrel horehound candies and a slight licorice tang that may turn into something else over time. No discernible fruit.

My next experiment will be a licorice base with dark fruit. Getting ready.

This is fascinating. Thanks for the updates!

What's the mix of water/licorice root/sodium bicarbonate (amounts)?
For about a gallon of erk soos (which sounds like something from Horton Hears a Who) the recipe would call for one teaspoon of sodium bicarbonate per 5 ounces of root. Feel free to adjust those amounts to what you're gonna be using. The steps go something like this:

1. Sprinkle your bicarbonate on dry root.

2. Add just enough water to cover your root, then STIR vigorously. It'll get a little sudsy. That's a good thing.

3. Let seep for a day (it will get even more sudsy), and then put your concoction in a blender for a minute or so. This serves two purposes: 1) Aiding the extraction 2) Reduces amount of extract lost via root absorption.

4. Add the remainder of the water, and let it sit for a few days.

Once again, adjust your amounts as you see fit. I didn't make an entire gallon because I wanted to use black tea as a complementary element/filler. I made a little less than a liter of extract. Taste wise, it went from tasting GREAT in primary, tasting AWFUL in the beginning of secondary, and tasting PRETTY DARN GOOD a few days after the second racking. I pitched regular Red-Star Montrachet. In a few days, I'm up for experiment number two. Licorice and blackberry. This time I want to shoot for "complexity", so I might add a wee bit of currants to my primary.
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After consultation with another winemaker, I'm changing course with my second experiment. Today, I bought frozen dark cherries and a small bag of prunes. I began a two quart batch of erk-soos inspired licorice root intention being to combine these ingredients into a gallon batch of wine. Hopefully a good one.

This fellow winemaker let me in on the fact that licorice and cherry are ingredients in old time root beer. Never knew. I hope that means the marriage of flavors will be a happy one in the finished product. The prunes are pure impulse, done with the intention of giving it a little more of that "What Exactly is This?" quality.
Sounds incredible and i like the cherry licorice flavor combination, wow. Do you think there will be caffeine present in the end product from the black tea?
I suspect there might be a minimal amount of caffeine. Hopefully just enough to make the night a smidge more lively!
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My next licorice experiment is sitting in primary. Licorice root, dark cherry, blackberry and prunes...listed in the order of prominence. Breakdown as follows:

2 Quarts Erk Soos Licorice Extract: Made with 4 ounces of root. Looking to be prominent in taste profile.

24 Ounces: Dark cherries. For a cherry wine I'd use a lot more, but I'm looking for this to be second fiddle to licorice.

12 Ounces blackberries

8 Ounces prunes

SG 1.109. I'm looking for punch in this blend if the yeast can cross the finish line.
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Red Star Montrachet. I've seen it go up to 17%, although the literature - if memory serves correct - only puts it around 13% for alcohol tolerance. I've used it since I bought my first kit for making wine. Creature of habit. Sometimes I think the fruit, or whatever base I'm using, plays a part in the yeast's endurance, although I don't know enough about the science end of things to prove or disprove it.
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Progress Update

Licorice Cherry blend has been in secondary for quite a few days. Smaller scale fermentation still occurring. Lifted a taste sample from this batch and licorice dominates to the exclusion of everything else. Alcohol is really getting there...yeast will likely keel over pretty soon. Overtone of licorice tang with hints of nothin' else. And this stuff also has blackberry and prune in it. Maybe went too strong with the erk soos extract.

I'd like to try to offset this imbalance before fermentation is over. First thought is to rack, then fill up the small amount of headspace with juice from either dark cherries or blackberry. Blackberry probably has less potential to go wrong, but I feel like more cherry could potentially complement the licorice a little better.

Lesson learned: Even a little bit of homemade licorice extract will pack a huge punch. Here I used HALF A GALLON (I know) of extract and far fewer cherries than a conventional cherry wine. The sweetness from the licorice - despite being non-sugar based - has petered out, but the "essence" of the licorice really overpowers everything else. Two things might potentially salvage this batch: 1) The addition of more fruit juice. 2) A shift in flavor profile with clearing and/or time.

Update: I ended up racking about to about half an inch over the fine lees, and mixing half a quart of 100% dark cherry juice (unsweetened) into the carboy. Airlock started bubbling again at the rate of about once per twenty seconds. Hopefully this meager addition will help shift the emphasis from pure licorice towards a 50/50 licorice-cherry. I'm glad fermentation is still going in hopes of better integration.
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My cherry licorice wine has come about in a good way. I power-loaded it with pectic enzyme at the beginning, and tossed a little more later on, but it hasn't affected the opacity of it much: dark maroon and a 1.5 on a 1-10 translucence scale. It's got major body, tastes pleasing (but unconventional), and will probably turn into something superb after a year or two in the bottle. But, for now, it needs to finish out in secondary....

Here's the 411 on blending a licorice extract with anything you plan to ferment: you need a lot more of whatever fruit you're using than licorice. Licorice extract - or at least the homemade extract I'm using - will overpower almost anything if you undershoot the fruit. Here, I used LESS than the normal amount of cherries present in the fruit wine. I had to compensate later with cherry juice after a racking. Airlock is still in the perpetually raised position, but not really visibly bubbling. Now, it's just a waiting game.

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