Monday, February 08, 2010

Mario Molinari

There are lemons and there are lemons, and the ones which go into Limoncello di Capri (LdC) are only from Sorrento, which gives LdC the right to state “Limoni di Sorrento I.G.P.” on their labels. It does come as a surprise to hear Mario Molinari tell us that 80% of Limoncello’s made in Italy are not made from lemons. No wonder we take to all things Italian! Anyway I’m not sitting with the owner of the world’s biggest Sambuca brand to talk about a company in which Molinari Sambuca has a stake, I’m more interested in the Anise flavoured liqueur, eponymously named which is all the rage, especially in the night clubs, where it’s customary to see a shot of Sambuca served with 3 coffee beans (called Sambuca con la mosca - Sambuca with the fly).

“My grandfather used to say that the 3 coffee beans symbolize good luck, but I personally think that it was a bartender in Rome who began serving the beans with the Sambuca, because when you chew the beans while drinking the Sambuca, the bitterness of the bean, complements the sweetness of the Anise”, says Mario. Whatever the origin, the ritual of the coffee beans has helped Sambuca make a mark on the world stage. In Italy, they still drink it mostly traditionally, that is a shot of Sambuca with coffee, or what is known as Café Corretto (the coffee is supposed to have been corrected by the addition of the alcohol!).

It all began in a bar. Mario’s grandfather, Angelo Molinari was in the spirits business in the 1920’s, and his work took him to Addis Ababa, where along with supplying ingredients to bar owners, he also opened his own bar. Coming back to Italy, he began making Sambuca Molinari in 1945. His masterstroke however was in the 50’ and 60’s, when he began advertising on television. At that time in Italy, TV was not commercial and was mostly being used as an educational medium, so apparently people believed what they saw and as a result Molinari is now the number one Sambuca in Italy with 85% share in the On Trade (as per Nielsen data, says Mario) and has gone on to sell in 75 countries over the world, selling 10 million bottles annually.

Mario’s latest innovation is Sambuca Café, which is a liqueur, based on Sambuca and Coffee. As per European law, to be called Sambuca, a product has to be clear and with no other flavour, other than Anise therefore the flavoured Sambuca’s you may see in the market are not technically Sambuca.
Mario likes to drink his Sambuca, ice cold, and served from the freezer. He’s confident that his product will do well with India, due to the experience of Aspri, his distributor and due to the fact that Indian’s are used to the flavour of Anise. Tulleeho! To that.

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