Joe Stella dates his love of amaro back to his days tending bars in Melbourne, some 20 years ago. His love of bitter flavours started somewhat earlier, as a young Italian lad sipping on chinotto as his mates enjoyed their Coca-Cola. Following the early success of his Stellacello Pompelmo (a stunningly delicious grapefruit-based liqueur), Stella took on a very personal challenge, in 2014, to create an original, London-bred amaro of a quality that could stand alongside his extensive collection of the finest Italian amari.
Some 25 ingredients are used, (including Bethnal Green's finest imported grapefruit peel and flesh, coriander seed, black peppercorn, orange zest, rosemary, Madagascan vanilla pod and whole fresh rhubarb), each added to a long, staggered maceration in neutral spirit. The sweetness--essential to balance the drink's bitter elements--comes from the traditional addition of sugar syrup. The resulting brew carries heady scents of sarsaparilla, neroli, blackberry and currants, backed up by vibrant citrus and cinnamon. On the palate, you get notes of cola, burnt orange and red liquorice, with a soft and subtle bitterness balancing the well-rounded texture.
Stellacello is a tiny, artisanal liqueur company based in East London founded by Melbourne lad, Joe Stella, and his wife SJ. Having grown up in an Australian-Italian family that made its own traditional liqueurs, Joe and SJ decided to start making some of these liqueurs to enjoy at home and share with friends. They gave the ancestral recipes from Joe’s family a modern twist and, as the story goes, made them in their bathtub. The response from friends, some of whom were in hospitality and knew their stuff, was so over the top that Joe and SJ started wondering whether a new career beckoned. And after several years of refining and testing, that’s precisely what has happened. Utilising first-rate, locally sourced, natural herbs, fruits and spices, the resulting drinks have a class, versatility and style of their own that transcends traditional liqueurs. They are not only delicious, they are also completely unique with a class and intensity that is extremely rare to find.
The first ‘homemade’ Stellacello was released in 2012—a racy, pink grapefruit-driven liqueur that could be (badly) described as a drier, far more interesting (and considerably more versatile) twist on the classic Italian Limoncello. Soon after it was listed at Lardo in London's East End and, as the noise grew, high profile clients including Ottolenghi, Polpo and the Tate Modern jumped on board. Following the drink’s early achievements Joe turned his evident talents to making London’s first Amaro, the regionally-specific, aromatic, herbal, bittersweet liqueur beloved by Italians and bartenders all over the world. Being a dyed-in-the-wool Amaro guy, it would be three years of trial and error, and an extended visit to Italy’s Amaro heartlands, before Stella was happy to release his “London Amaro”. Made from predominantly fresh ingredients, it’s a truly outstanding example; a three-in-one Amaro that works equally well as a base, modifier or more traditionally served as a digestif.