Amaro Obsession


From the slopes of the Sibillini Mountains to the conquest of the World, the Varnelli Company from 1868 to the present has made its way... As a professional I believe that along with very few other Brands, Varnelli inspires anyone who has a great reverence and respect in front of your bottles, like us of Amaro Obsession today. Please, Mrs Varnelli, tell us the beautiful story that represents you, also focusing on the three men who led the rise until 1975: your great-grandfather, grandfather and finally your father.

The Varnelli Distillery, through four generations, has reached 150 years of uninterrupted family activity. It was 1868 when Girolamo Varnelli founded the handicraft and herbal company in the Marche. A great lover of aromatic herbs and medicinal plants, Girolamo - who lived in Cupi di Visso in the heart of the Sibillini Mountains, now National Park - was able to draw from the nature, popular habits and productions of the Benedictine Monks the starting point for a happy intuition: Amaro Sibilla, whose name was intended to underline then the essential link with the territory of origin. It was joined by aniseed liqueur and other elixirs. Following in the footsteps of his father, Antonio Varnelli, he moved the Company to Pievebovigliana by structuring it in a more complex way and he is responsible for the finalization of the recipe of Mistrà Varnelli, Anice Secco Speciale, which refers to the widespread tradition of the Mistrà other aniseed liquors popular in all the countries of the Mediterranean, is unique and original and has become the flagship product of our Company thanks to the tireless promotion that made the son Girolamo, herbalist like the grandfather and enthusiastic standard bearer of Varnelli. Over the decades, our Anice Secco Speciale, - which received the Gold Medal at the First Exposition of Italian Wines and Liquors in 1950 - has come to be called exclusively “Varnelli” because of its uniqueness, originality and its “independence” compared to the various categories of anise liqueurs. It is the flagship product of our Distillery, which identifies the brand: it has established itself as a “corrective ruler of coffee”, is perceived as a Premium product in the category of anisates and is also highly appreciated by the new generation of bartenders.

You are a splendid female entrepreneurial reality, four women at the helm: three sisters - Gigliola Simonetta, Mari Donatella, Orietta Maria - and your mother Elda. How complicated is it to be a woman in a world, like that of the beverage industry, almost completely populated by men and what do you have in your way of managing the Company inherited from the past and yet what new have you done?

Already at the time of our ancestors, women have counted a lot and there has always been a profound identification between the family and the Distillery bearing our surname. This has certainly facilitated our approach to management, even if we are all women and, as far as I am concerned, I can frankly say that I have never perceived barriers due to my being a woman, both in the purely commercial and in the various other activities concerning the beverage world. If enthusiasm is transmitted in what is done, faithfulness to the quality and tradition of its products, correctness and availability, it is always welcome and gender does not count. We have inherited these values ​​and made them our own, and we interpret the challenges of the present and the programs for the future on them. Today's is a Company that, in carefully conserving and perpetuating culture and traditions handed down through generations, is attentive to innovation and projection towards the future. In the last years, the DARK PASSION, the SKIPASS, the MANDARINO LIQUORE, the DELIZIA MIXOLOGY have been added to the historical products that have made our range more articulate and still others would have arrived if the serious earthquake that hit our area and in our structure had not imposed a setback to development programs in the last two years. But the promotional and outreach activities aimed at making our brand known and stimulating further and captivating ways of using both our classic and new products have not slowed down. Above all, addressing the new generation of bartenders, very attentive to niche products and on a botanical basis.

Your products have always been the symbol of craftsmanship and territoriality, talking about Amari, you can kindly tell us about Amaro Sibilla and Amaro dell'Erborista, deviating from the classic explanatory and organoleptic notes, but with the heart and eyes of the producer and telling how much of your territory is in them.

C’è un mondo di cose belle da dire sia su come sono nati i nostri Amari sia su come sono fatti, ma dovrò necessariamente riassumere. L’AMARO SIBILLA fu inventato dal fondatore Girolamo Varnelli per curare le febbri malariche dei pastori dei Monti Sibillini che andavano in transumanza nella Maremma e per questo contiene molta Genziana e China combinate sapientemente con altre specie botaniche. L’estrazione dei principi attivi avviene tramite un decotto su fuoco a legna che viene dolcificato con miele dei Monti Sibillini. Occorrono, poi, molti mesi di decantazione e una filtrazione a tela prima che possa essere imbottigliato. Un prodotto di alta qualità erboristica che sta riscuotendo il gradimento degli esperti e si è posizionato ai vertici della categoria sia in Italia sia all’estero. L’AMARO DELL’ERBORISTA è una variante dell’Amaro Sibilla che nel 1975, appena diventata Erborista presso l’Università di Siena, ebbi l’idea di proporre inizialmente alle erboristerie e alle farmacie. Esso, sempre fatto con decotto di botaniche su fuoco a legna, si differenzia dall’Amaro Sibilla per minor gradazione alcolica (21% contro 34%) e per la presenza di Rabarbaro. Non è filtrato e viene proposto con la caratteristica opalescenza determinata dal miele. E’ presentato in una caratteristica bottiglia con tappo meccanico ed ha un’etichetta che sottolinea la sua artigianalità di stampo erboristico. Le sue proprietà organolettiche, il suo colore, la sua torbidità ed il suo packaging stanno affascinando il mercato italiano ed internazionale.

You always been advocates of craftsmanship in the production of Amari and liqueurs, despite the current European regulation allows the production by flavoring (infusions can be purchased ready at qualified producers to flavor an alcohol based on a recipe in the possession of the producer to which it will remain only that mix and rest and subsequent sweetening), a production process that takes away much of the charm from the work of Herbalist or Master Liquorist or from the name of "artisan producer". What do you say about it, but above all what message would you like to send to the experts who every day choose and propose Amaro to their guests?

La nostra azienda nasce dall’esperienza erboristica del bisnonno e ancora oggi replichiamo le ricette e i metodi produttivi che abbiamo ereditato. Pensi che sono ancora in funzione le caldaie di rame su fuoco a legna di oltre cento anni fa. Ed ancora frantumiamo la China e la Cannella nel mortaio di marmo che usava il nostro bisnonno.  Non mi sento però di demonizzare in modo generalizzato gli estratti naturali ed il loro utilizzo. Se essi sono di alta qualità sia quanto a materie prime utilizzate sia quanto a metodo estrattivo, hanno anch’essi una loro dignità e richiedono maestria e competenze. L’arte “aromataria”, quella praticata già dai Monaci e dagli Speziali, ha una storia antica sia in farmacia sia in liquoreria sia nel settore alimentare. Tutto dipende dal tempo, dai metodi estrattivi e dai costi che si vogliono sostenere.

Working around the world I saw the Amari Varnelli everywhere, but above all I saw the love for your products being the prerogative of every consumer and workman from all over the globe, but at the same time I saw your products being a must for the American bartenders on which the Company seems to me to aim a lot, but unfortunately I did not see the same attention from both sides in Italy, where Varnelli products remain the top niche product identified, however, more like an after-meal. What are the limits of Italy in terms of Amari behind the bar as an ingredient for mixing? So do you think to promote a more profitable collaboration activity here in Italy with modern mixology in the future? And if so, how?

It is true, our Amari and also the Varnelli have fascinated the bartenders of USA and many other Countries of the world positioning themselves at the top of the sector of reference and in the most prestigious places where they are mainly used in cocktails. In Italy, at least for us, the phenomenon started with a bit of delay, but there is now a great ferment both by consumers and by the new class of bartenders, both increasingly looking for traditional Italian liqueurs and Amari. In recent years, even from areas where our distribution is not massive, spontaneous requests come from our most classic products. There is a sort of word of mouth between insiders confronting each other and communicating their experiences and choices. Currently the Varnelli and our Amari are present in bars that years back would not have used them in the cocktails. Even the world of new bartenders has also discovered our Caffè Moka on which we have never invested for promotion and communication. It is doing by itself, increasing its diffusion from day to day. Since 1989 we have been AIBES supporting members participating in all the Regional and National Competitions and with our products many prizes have been won, but this did not translate into massive use of these products at the bar. Today, thanks to the new orientations and the propensity to research that is spreading, if the bartender has the opportunity to test our products, more and more frequently he adopts them on an ongoing basis. A happy moment that pushes us to intensify the promotional and collaboration activities with bartending professionals through Masterclass, participation in targeted events, tastings, evenings and cocktail competitions.

The Varnelli Company is friend of nature! Can you explain how you operate in your productions in full respect of nature and the surrounding ecosystem?

The production of Distilleria Varnelli is characterized by traditional methods and herbal culture that include the use of raw materials of plant origin (herbs, roots, seeds, spices, fruit, honey) according to unique recipes reserved for owners. By virtue of this, we do not introduce into the atmosphere other than the smoke of burning wood to produce decoctions and the production waste essentially consist of herbs and roots which, exploited by decoction, can be assimilated to domestic humid. The Company, moreover, and for many years, has promoted initiatives that favor the production of the raw materials necessary for it on the territory, and by virtue of this has initiated experimental cultivation of Gentian on its own land located within the Parco dei Monti dei Sibillini as well as collaborating with institutions, Universities and associations of farmers to promote new chains in the sign of the enhancement of biodiversity and local specialties.

The Brand Varnelli is also synonymous with successes, many in terms of international exports, sales numbers, appreciation and awards... At this point my biggest curiosity is to know if you have new ambitions and what are your next goals.

Every day our enthusiasm is renewed and is nourished by new goals to which we tend to have, however, always and well aware that the family and craftsmanship of the Company is a strong point to keep. In harmony with this philosophy our projects are never striking but "piece" of a mosaic that is articulated and gradually increases. To celebrate our 150th anniversary, we have a couple of new features in store that we will communicate in early 2019.

Matteo Zed

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