By MICHAEL KITCH, LACONIA DAILY SUN
MEREDITH — The conventional end to an Italian meal, the digestivo, or after-dinner drink, traces its origins to the popes and princes of the Renaissance and beyond, but recently struck root in the Lakes Region, where Frank Marino, a patent agent, has turned a family tradition into a fledgling enterprise.
Marino has begun producing Morecello, an infused liqueur akin to the commercially more ubiquitous "limoncello," made from the blackberry, or, in Italian, "mora." He said that for generations his family made the drink at home, and brought it to America in 1917 when his grandfather arrived from Sicily, which along with Calabria, Sardinia and the Amalfi Coast is known for liqueurs made from fresh fruit.
"I've been making it for Christmas gifts for a long time," Marino said, "and people have been urging me to bottle it." Last week, he delivered his first order of 50 cases, each with a dozen bottles, to the New Hampshire Liquor Commission.
Sometimes called "amazzacaffe," or "coffee killer," digestivos, collectively known as "amari," are relished for their medicinal properties believed to ease digestion and generally include a proprietary mix of herbs, spices, roots and flowers steeped in grain alcohol and blended with sweet syrup. Although more than 300 digestivos are marketed, many believe that the best, like Marino's Morecello, follow home recipes. Marino was circumspect, saying only that "hundreds of bushels of blackberries," organically grown by "a little Italian in Washington state," are steeped in grain alcohol "for a secret amount of time" and mixed with sugar, spring water and other undisclosed ingredients. "It's all organic," he stressed, "and 50 proof."
Marino explained that Morecello should be frozen then partially thawed during the course of the meal and finally "shaken vigorously and served slushy" in small drafts of two or three ounces. "It's not meant to be guzzled," he said. Traditionally a digestive, Marino said that Morecello can also serve as an ingredient to cocktails and, above all, said it is absolutely delicious mixed with milk.
Originally, Marino intended to produce Morecello from his home, but was informed that federal law and state regulation require him to operate in a secure facility. He purchased the building next door to the Annalee Dolls Gift Shop on US Route 3, which last served a temporary home to Rite-Aid Pharmacy. He said that the cement block building on a half-acre lot, which has no windows and as a pharmacy is fitted with a security alarm, meets all the requirements while providing 2,000 square feet of space.
Marino said that he spent more than a year dealing with the Alcohol, Tobacco Tax Bureau to obtain the federal permits to produce, bottle and sell distilled spirits, "but it was real easy with the state." He recalled driving to Concord and filling a meter to park for two hours then registering his business, securing his trademark, opening an account with the New Hampshire Liquor Commission and finding 15 minutes remaining on his parking meter.
New Hampshire, Marino said, is one of the very best states in the country for a small entrepreneur to produce and sell alcoholic beverages.
"The state does not tax your product," he explained, "but makes its money by marking up its price. They have a vested interest in your success because the state benefits from your sales."
He said the New Hampshire Liquor Commission will put Morecello on the shelves of its stores in the Lakes Region — in Meredith, Center Harbor, New Hampton and Gilford — and hopes it will also soon appear at the the stores on either side of I-93 in Hooksett. Morecello will be among the products featured at Lakes Region Uncorked, an exposition of locally made wine, mead, cider, beer, spirits and foods to benefit Lakes Region Community Services at Church Landing at Mill Falls on Nov. 3, beginning at 5 p.m.
Marino said he has invested in materials sufficient to produce 5,000 bottles, or more than 400 cases, of Morecello, which he hopes will be exhausted in six to eight months. Still a practicing patent agent, he said that he anticipates spending the equivalent of a day a week on his new enterprise, but would clearly like for the business to claim more of his time.
"I also make a very good limoncello," he said, smiling.
Frank Marino of Black Cove Beverages in Meredith cradles a bottle of Morecello, an after-dinner drink fashioned from blackberries inspired by a recipe that originated generations ago with his ancestors in Sicily and soon to be on the shelves of liquor stores in the Lakes Region. (Michael Kitch/Laconia Daily Sun)