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Even if you're a regular cocktail connoisseur or a keen wine drinker, you may not be familiar with Italian amari and aperitivi. They're styles of Italian liqueurs, sweet to bitter, that can be enjoyed on their own or mixed into a drink. The editors invited the team from Don Ciccio & Figlio to share their collection. We sipped our way through the company's range to better understand amari and aperitivi.
The distillery was founded by the great-grandparents of current president Francesco Amodeo, on the Amalfi Coast of Italy in 1883. After an earthquake destroyed the distillery in 1980, it was never rebuilt. Amodeo moved to Washington D.C. 14 years ago and in October 2012, decided to relaunch his family's business—in the United States this time. "We soak ingredients in a neutral grain spirit and distill it to 190 proof. Take that flavored alcohol, add it to a vat of water, and sometimes add a sweetener (pure cane sugar) to define a liqueur," explains Jonathan Fasano, portfolio manager for the company. Don Ciccio & Figli produces 15 liqueurs, a selection of aperitivi and amari. Generally, ingredients macerate in a base spirit for four to seven days before they're adjusted for flavor.
What's the difference between an aperitivo and an amaro? That's the first question everyone had. "They both have at bitter personality, but you're looking at about 15-20 ingredients for one of our aperitivo compared to 20-40 ingredients in an amaro," explains Fasano. "Aperitivi are definitely meant to be mixed whereas amari were traditionally been used for medicinal purposes and sipped on their own." The test kitchen team agreed with Fasano that nowadays it's fine to drink what you want, how you want: Amaro might be used in cocktails and apertivi mixed for spritz but also used in cocktails or enjoyed after dinner.
Deputy Food Editor Greg Lofts wanted to know, how should liqueurs like amari and aperitivi be stored? "Temperature change is extremely important," notes Fasano. "Always keep them away from light. You'll lose vibrancy and the flavor will turn funky and a bit sour."
The brand's limoncello is their most popular product. Greg could taste why: "It has a rich, lemony mouth feel and flavor but it doesn't have the sharpness that so many limoncellos have." Fasano explained that the limoncello is made with three and a half miles of California citrus.
Ambrosia is the newest addition to the product line: "This is filling that Aperol spot, you're getting sweetness from blood orange and cantaloupe. That tickle of bitterness at the back of the throat comes from turmeric," Fasano explains. He describes Cersasum, a semi-sweet aperitvo, as "eating cherry pie. You come across that sour cherry surrounded by sweetness and then you come up with the cherry pith on the back end." Their walnut liqueur, Nocino, is an interpretation of a classic Italian dark brown liqueur made for Christmas. "This would be great brushed on top of a nice sponge cake," suggests Greg. "Or a butter sauce for a dessert, yum!"
A similarly rich sip comes from Concerto, which Fasano calls "dessert." Espresso and barley are brewed together to create an infused water base, this is added to alcohol along with 15 other botanicals. Don Ciccio & Figli recommend serving it affogato style—just a splash over vanilla ice cream.
Don Ciccio & Figli is located on Washington D.C.'s prominent 'Distillery Row' in Ivy City at 1907 Fairview Avenue NE, Washington, DC 20002.