And it's perfect for fancy-pants cocktails, too
Be honest: how much of your booze shelf currently includes some dreadful last-minute presents that your friends panic-bought before boarding their Ryanair flight back home? You know the ones. Names with no vowels, all consonants. Lurid, toilet-cleaners of a drink.
Limoncello’s probably one of them. Yes, there are some truly delicious lemon-infused drinks to come from Italy, but for some reason, the only ones that seem to make it back from Bella Italia are the canary-yellow ones, steeped in E numbers and tasting like cheap melted ice lollies.
It’s something that artisan drinkmaker Joe Stella from Stellacello was thinking about back in 2012. He says: “People have a lot of strong opinions about limoncello. So many people have been exposed to some horrifically sweet, fluorescent-yellow version of it when abroad or when people have brought them back from holidays. More often than not they’re too sweet, they don’t have the ABV to support the sweetness, so it’s like you’re almost drinking a cordial. I wanted to try and disassociate it from that.”
And so his quest to make a British liqueur inspired by the Italian beverage began.
Italian heritage, Bethnal Green heart
Handily, Joe’s Italian heritage means he had a host of family recipes to play around with before landing on the idea of making his drink with grapefruit. He says: “Generally in Italy, the type of liqueurs people make at home all are seasonal, whatever fruits are available. I made a limoncello for some time, and I’ve always liked grapefruit as it made a more refreshing cocktail ingredient.”
And so Stellacello Pompelmo was born, and swiftly became the bartender’s liqueur of choice for cocktail-making and general sipping. Then, last year, Joe released his second liqueur called Amaro London, which is Britain’s first own amaro – a bitter-sweet herbal liqueur that's perfect as a digestif.
He adds: “There’s 25 botanicals in there. I didn’t think at the time that I fully appreciated the level of complexity and balancing act I was getting into – it was a three-year process from start to finish.”
A little something to drink, post-dessert?
It feels somehow deeply European to be offered a digestif after dinner. From hierbas in Ibiza to grappa in Greece, the idea of having a strong, fragrant little spirit to help your food down has never really taken off in the UK. But Joe says: “Things are changing typically in the UK as people are looking to enjoy different drinks at the end of a meal. I like people to try Amaro straight, as it works well as a digestif, but also as you can taste the depths of flavour. People are now more open to enjoying more complex tipples, and that’s brilliant.”
But cocktails can also benefit from a shot of the new. The trend for old-fashioned drinks like Aperol spritz or negroni have had everyone rummaging through old booze brands again and creating new spins on the old classics. Joe suggests serving a Stella spritz [an Aperol spritz, with Pompelmo replacing the Aperol] or a margarita, but switching up the Cointreau for Pompelmo. Plus, negronis can have a seriously slick makeover by using Amaro instead of Campari.
Also, one cocktail we’ve been seeing a lot of (ahem… drinking a lot of) this summer is white port and tonic. Sling a bit of Amaro in there, too and it’s a drink worthy of Sofia Loren.
1. Stella spritz
• Take 25ml Stellacello Pompelmo Liqueur and pour into a champagne flute
• Top with Prosecco and soda water
• Garnish with pink grapefruit and a green Sicilian olive
2. The Stellaroni – an East End Negroni
• One part Stellacello Amaro London
• One part London Dry Gin
• One part sweet vermouth (rosso)
Mix all ingredients together, serve over ice and garnish with pink grapefruit zest