I was invited to join a bevy of bartenders yesterday at one of my favorite watering holes for limoncello cocktails made by two of the best local barmen.
The key takeaway from this experience was that when you are looking for a little something different, limoncello can be substituted for citrus liqueurs such as tripel sec in a number of classic cocktail recipes. We tasted excellent examples of a margarita and a sidecar (with the lemon juice swapped for lime) both crafted this way, as well as a pisco punch incorporating limoncello.
The owner of Caravella Limoncello was also on hand to let us in on a few industry secrets.
“The lemons, they must suffer,” he exclaimed, supporting one of my favorite theories, that fruit develops the most intense flavors in severe conditions*, and he enriches his limoncello with only Sicilian lemon skins, which impart a vibrant flavor and an almost florescent yellow color that makes for naturally gorgeous cocktails.
He informed us that until he began producing limoncello over three decades ago, it was a cottage industry, brewed up only by housewives and in restaurant kitchens. In fact, limoncello has still not branched into the Italian cocktail realm, but persists simply as a digestif, served ice-cold after a meal, when often a restaurant owner will place a bottle on the table, encouraging guests to linger and drink.
Pisco Punch; Caravella’s Paolo Sperone;
Duggan McDDonnell and Shaher Misif shake cocktails at Cantina in San Francisco
* A theory I began to understand when I first bit into a flaccid California Macintosh apple expecting all the flavor of a Mac from my home in Vermont. Long, gentle growing seasons yield lazy fruit with no fear of extinction, but to survive in the harsh climes of places like New England, fruit must adapt by developing intense flavors to ensure that animals will devour them and release seeds in fertile piles to keep the family line strong. I’ve recently heard similar tales of Mexican agave, with with mezcal producers incorporating plants which struggle to survive on the side of a ravine with their traditionally farmed agave to improve flavor.