How far can you go with a seasonal specialty beverage menu? At Washington, D.C.’s Bibiana, beverage director Francesco Amodeo and bartender Milton Hernandez have joined forces behind the bar at Ashok Bajaj's Italian hotspot to create 25 new seasonally inspired drinks with an Italian twist as a countdown to Dec. 25. (Check out the menu here). Included is a house-made rosolio, a traditional liqueur distilled from lemon and mandarin peels, fennel or other ingredients commonly found throughout the Amalfi Coast. We check in with Amodeo to see what all this took.
NCB Mix: Your Christmas cocktail list, in which 25 new drinks are rolled out at one time, is quite an undertaking — what inspired you to create so many drinks and introduce them this way?
Amodeo: It is almost like celebrating a cocktail anniversary. I started actually to create them last year around this time.
NCB Mix: Befitting an Italian restaurant, the new cocktails employ many amaros and traditionally Italian ingredients — Nutella, grappa, espresso, Prosecco. Is using ingredients like these important when crafting cocktails for an Italian restaurant?
Amodeo: I have been using them since I started to work as bartender back on the Amalfi Coast over 15 years ago. For me it is crucial to use them. It is also another way to be different from other bars. I try to keep it original and fun
NCB Mix: You've also ranged into sweeter, dessert style cocktails, using Frangelico, amaretto and other liqueurs that aren't quite so popular among most bartenders these days — are dessert cocktails coming back?
Amodeo: I hope they are. They always did well for me. I feel like they are my lucky charm.
NCB Mix: What's the hardest part about installing so many different drinks at one time? Is it consistent execution, or convincing customers to try them, or what?
Amodeo: These cocktails have already been executed in the past here. Most of our clientele can't wait to try them again. So this is really fun, and I can't wait to do it. When customers look at the menu now, it’s like looking at a wine list. So many choices, so many different drinks.
NCB Mix: Are you making many of your own ingredients for these drinks?
Amodeo: Yes; all the digestives, and we use fresh juices and purees.
NCB Mix: You've been making your own rosolio as well — tell me how that evolved.
Amodeo: It’s a family tradition actually. My dad has always made this since I was a kid. He was the one that told me to start to make them here as well.
NCB Mix: Finally, what's your favorite cocktail right now?
Amodeo: I will say our Maddalena (Svedka Vodka, Campari, Martini Rosso and a splash of Prosecco) and Papa l' Americano (Hendrick's Gin, Cocchi Americano, homemade prickly pear liqueur).