by Scott Stavrou
Magazine Issue: U.S. Vol. 3.3
Disrobing the Monk
There are times in life that veritably cry out for the right drink: after dinner, before dinner, when it’s cold, when it’s hot, when you’re thirsty, when it’s day, when it’s night… when it’s dusk… and mostly, the other times.
If you want to come off cultivated and to exude that certain je ne sais quoi, then you’ll want to be the one who knows just the right drink to match each occasion. There are bars and restaurants galore filled with thirsty, confused customers trying to think of what they feel like drinking. Few people are born with this innate knowledge, but with the right amount of practice and experimenting, you can become the one who says, “Sweetheart, why don’t you join me in a…?” (Hint: try and make sure that you’re actually sitting with someone before you say this.)
It’s one thing to be confused about your job or to not know what to do in matters of the heart, but when it comes to satisfying your thirst, dammit, you want to be the one who knows just what you want. How do you get that way? You send your taste buds out on repeated reconnaissance missions until you nail the target. Monogamy is for marriage, not for your palate. Your palate deserves to play the field — sow some oats.
Choosing which liqueur, cordial or after-dinner drink needn’t be intimidating. Sure, there are some stalwart old standbys, but if you want to branch out and adopt a drink as your own, you need to jump off the beaten track a bit.
Frangelico is a good choice for this. It’s a hazelnut liqueur that’s both distinctive and unusual, yet popular enough to be found in most restaurants and bars. It’s not syrupy sweet or overly heavy, but it’s sweet enough that you’ll enjoy it on your first sip. It instills a warm, comfortable feeling by itself, but is versatile enough to use as a mixer, to drink with (or in) coffee, over ice, or to experiment with on your own. It’s also a nifty little kicked-up bonus to add to a lot of desserts.
A cursory examination of the brown bottle in the shape of a Monk reveals some of the uniqueness inside. Legend has it that the liqueur was created by an Italian Monk back in the 17th century in the Piedmont region of northwest Italy, near the Italian Alps. Supposedly, the Monk was an epicure-hermit who experimented greatly with local herbs, nuts and berries and made his own liquors out in the woods. (Centuries later such a person might be called a vagrant, a moonshiner, an outlaw or a bootlegger… times and labels change.) But whether you’re the religious sort or not, you don’t have to take any vows to savor the modern day distillate of poor old Frangelico’s religious rites.
Today Frangelico is still produced by the Barbero Wine & Spirits Company, a family-run operation founded in 1891 and located in the same small Italian town of Canale. One change though — now you can get it at your local bar in more than 85 countries… and of course, though still family-run, the company has been bought out by a huge conglomerate.
But even today the recipe is a well-guarded secret blend achieved by infusing toasted hazelnuts in alcohol and water, then distilling the result. Other ingredients are added — including toasted cocoa, toasted coffee, vanilla berries, rhubarb root and sweet orange flowers — before further blending and maturing in oak casks. It’s a nutty, fruity, mixed-up wacky taste of Northern Italy in a glass.
Because it’s Italian, Frangelico bespeaks of la dolce vita and carries with it that cachet for which sleek things from Italy are known. And because it’s tasty and gives you another excuse to relax and enjoy life, you’ll like it. So next time you’re looking for just the right taste to punctuate the evening, look heavenward and think of all the travails that the poor peasant Monk Frangelico had to go through, arch your eyebrow and say, “Join me in a Frangelico?”