In the late 1800s in the town of Atrani on Italy’s Amalfi Coast, the Amodeo family opened a distillery, producing small batches of bitter and sweet liqueurs until operations were forced to halt in 1931 due to post-World War I rebuilding efforts. Two decades later, Francesco Amodeo, nicknamed Don Ciccio, brought the operation back to life, and business flourished until an earthquake hit southern Italy’s Irpinia district in 1980, destroying the distillery along with the groves of lemon trees that supplied the family’s treasured limoncello.
In 2012, Francesco Amodeo’s grandson and namesake resurrected the company—dubbing it Don Ciccio & Figli—in Washington, D.C. The company operated under the radar until earlier this year when Amodeo, who serves as president and master distiller, relaunched the concept with portfolio manager Jonathan Fasaon, opening a new distillery and bar on Distillery Row in the Ivy City neighborhood.
Don Ciccio still uses old family recipes, though nowadays the ingredients are sourced in the U.S. “Being true to who we are and never compromising—that was the lesson my grandfather taught me,” Amodeo says. “So we always stay true to our concept and how we produce our spirits.” If Amodeo wants to create something new, he’ll peruse the archives to see if any relevant recipes can be found—and usually there are some. Then he reproduces the liqueur, updating its flavor profile by taking steps like eliminating sugar. “I modify the spirits so that they’re more modern and easier to mix in cocktails,” he explains.
Amodeo is adamant about using only natural ingredients in his spirits. Don Ciccio Limoncello is all natural, with no artificial stabilizers or additives. Amodeo avoids making liqueurs overly sweet, always opting for a way to find natural sweetness rather than turn to excess sugars or syrups. He also uses only fresh ingredients and carefully selected botanicals in his recipes, including artichokes and citrus fruits from California, cherries from Michigan, and fennel and dill from Pennsylvania and Maryland. For a 400-liter batch of limoncello, three and a half miles’ worth of lemon peels are used. “Fresh ingredients allow for the purest, cleanest flavors,” Fasaon explains.
Don Ciccio & Figli produces 16 liqueurs, priced at $35-$43 a 750-ml. The bitter liqueurs include Delle Sirene amaro, Donna Rosa rabarbaro, Cerasum aperitivo, C3 carciofo, Luna aperitivo, Ferro-Kina amaro, Cinque aperitivo, and Don Fernet amaro. The cordials are Limoncello, Mandarinetto, Fico d’India, Finocchietto, Nocino, and Concerto. Ambrosia—a bittersweet herbal liqueur made with turmeric, blood orange, cantaloupe, carrots, and botanicals—is the latest addition to the portfolio, released this past May.
The company offers a distillery tour complete with a tasting room experience. Guests can also try the liqueurs in cocktails at Amodeo’s Bar Sirenis, which has an art deco aesthetic inspired by the Amalfi Coast. Classic cocktails like the Negroni, Americano, and Spritz ($9-$11) are offered, but specialty drinks are the main focus. The Toto’ ($12) is made with Mandarinetto, Civic vodka, Mancino Bianco Ambrato vermouth, and lemon juice; the Peppino ($13) mixes Limoncello, Green Hat gin, Primaterra Prosecco, and lemon juice; the Ramona ($12) comprises Fico d’India, Cinque aperitivo, Gracias a Dios Espadín mezcal, and grapefruit juice; the Alexis ($14) blends Nocino, Delle Sirene amaro, and One Eight Bourbon; and the Alberto ($10) combines Finocchietto, Catoctin Creek rye, and house-made bitters.
Amodeo and Fasaon note the resurgence of bitter Italian liqueurs in the U.S. market and their role in the ongoing consumer exploration of the segment. “We want people to learn about the world of liqueurs, and also take a piece of Italy’s drinking culture with them,” says Fasaon. “Come have your aperitif before dinner, and then come back after dinner for a digestif. It’s all about education and giving the U.S. a piece of the Amalfi Coast.”