When we were in Italy 3 weeks ago we kept my tradition to try as many types of exotic local licorice.
One of them was scarlet red. Its package - a kind of old-school approach to design. Its price - pretty deal. So I took it. I didn't even care about its name.
Back home, it was the first thing I was eager to open and taste. I loved it. It was sweet, not too alcoholic and very rich in aroma. It is not the type of drink you would have on daily basis: it deserves your special mood to take it.
So, today the bottle official went to the glass recycle bin and for the first time before saying it fare-well, I took notice on who's the distiller and the licorice name. Lame.
Turns out that Alchermes (that's its name) is typical Florence liqueur made of sugar, cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg and vanilla, and other herbs and flavoring agents. Saying "other" means that some doors should never be opened. Its scarlet color is obtained by the addition of kermes. And kermes (or cochineal) are insects. Like any other insects they don't look kinky.
Wikipedia explains that "the drink fell out of favor around the turn of the century because people discovered that a (dye from the insects) was used". Yeah. Pretty logical.
Along with that calamity I have more. It seems that Alchermes is more popular for its cooking skills adding vivid colors to pastry.
Bother to learn more? Here you go:
My Alchermes distiller: http://www.distilleriemantovani.it
More on the history of that drink: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Alchermes
The insects on Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cochineal
Cochineal scarlet: http://images.google.com/images?q=Cochineal