If you’re looking for artisanal liqueurs made in the U.S., Washington, D.C.-based Don Ciccio & Figli distillery should be at the top of your list. The company traces its roots to Italy’s Amalfi Coast, where in 1852 the original Don Ciccio, Vincenzo, began making liqueurs using his family recipes, “from bitter amaro to sweet limoncello.”
The business went away after awhile, but in 1951, the then-Don Ciccio, Francesco Amodeo, brought the liqueurs back to life using those ancestral recipes as his guide (reportedly sticking to them exactly). In 1980 a terrible earthquake leveled the distillery and stopped production once again… but in 2012 Amodeo’s grandson relaunched the company some 5000 miles away in Washington, D.C., again relying on history to guide the company’s production.
We’ve looked at other Ciccio products in the past (namely Cerasum), and today we look at two members of its old-guard lineup, a nocino (walnut liqueur) and finocchietto (fennel liqueur). Note that both include a recommendation that they remain refrigerated “for best quality.”
Don Ciccio & Figli Nocino – While the nose is modest — nutty, but rather restrained — the palate is surprisingly spicy, with a big slug of cinnamon, chocolate, cola, and coffee bean all layered on top of a nutty body. It’s not immediately obvious that it’s walnut at the core — pecans and hazelnuts both come to mind when sipping on it — but the finish of brown butter, more cocoa, and some cherry notes are all so enticing that it’s easy to forget. Quite versatile in cocktails. 58 proof. A- / $38
Don Ciccio & Figli Finocchietto – Unlike the more vague nocino, this finocchietto offers a clear and immediate nose that is fully redolent of fennel. Side notes of spearmint and some lemon add a touch of nuance, but it’s primarily a licorice bomb from the get-go. The palate is quite sweet but sticks closely to the licorice/fennel theme. Almost juicy with syrup, it’s a sugar overload from the start, with less pungent fennel than you’d expect from the nose. The body is more akin to licorice candy, with a lasting sweetness clinging to the mouth on the finish — fine, but frankly unchallenging. While sweet/herbal liqueurs may have a place, there’s plenty of good pastis and absinthe around that is simply more versatile. Perhaps this could be a shortcut to a Sazerac if simple syrup isn’t around? 50 proof. B / $33