My relationship with Frangelico began innocently enough (or not-so-innocently, depending on your perspective) in the spring of 2001. I was 18, and it was just a year after I had decided that bartending was a noble pursuit. I was infatuated with a 23-year-old woman, and was standing in her kitchen. We’d gone to dinner, and she’d taken me back to her place and put some coffee on. She also had an unopened half-bottle of Frangelico on hand. At the time, I thought this made her unbelievably sophisticated. Now, before you cry foul over this story of an older woman corrupting an underage drinker with alcohol, fear not: No booze was consumed that night because we could not get the damned bottle open. The cap simply spun around and around but would not unscrew. We both worked at it for several minutes using a variety of different techniques, but the result remained the same: The Frangelico was staying in the bottle that night.
I’ve been marked for life by this event. First of all, I can’t look at the silhouette of the Frangelico bottle’s pious friar without thinking of the curves of a beautiful, smart, and unpredictable young woman who was ultimately too much for me to handle. (Some might find this to be weird, but my argument is that all bottles are inherently phallic anyway, so there’s really nothing new here.) Secondly, the cap to that bottle is still spinning. I don’t mean that particular bottle—I’m sure she eventually opened her bottle and served it to a more mature man who was better prepared for its contents than I was. Back then, I didn’t know what to do with Frangelico (beyond putting it in coffee). And now, even though I’ve opened many bottles since then, I still often find myself perplexed. Eleven years later, it’s just as mysterious to me as it was in that kitchen in Silverlake. So, in that sense, I still can’t get the darn thing open.
There are a lot of popular liqueurs that I banish from my home and from bars left and right, but there’s definitely nothing wrong with Frangelico. First of all, it’s Italian, which means its sheik and artsy. Secondly, it’s “all natural.” And lastly, it’s really delicious. I don’t think anyone can take this over the rocks and complain it doesn’t taste good. But there’s a problem: It’s pungent.
I feel confident enough to work with nearly every ingredient in any bar. I’ve put together an entire menu of amaro cocktails. Absinthe? No problem. Strega, grappa, Islay Scotch, blackstrap rum, batavia arrack—throw them at me and I’ll knock them all down. As long as a spirit or liqueur is of fine quality in its own right, I will confidently make a delicious drink. But when it comes to Frangelico, I have often found myself shrugging my shoulders in resignation.
Frangelico is what is know as a noisette, which is French for “hazelnut,” and also refers to a liqueur featuring the same flavor. Although it markets itself as “the original hazelnut liqueur,” with “origins” dating back over 300 years, and has a bottle that calls to mind something old and traditional, Frangelico has actually only been around since the 1980’s. It’s made with real hazelnuts, which are steeped in an alcohol solution. This solution is then distilled again, resulting in a hazelnut distillate. Then other ingredients are added, including cocoa and vanilla. Although I don’t know for sure, I would wager there’s fruit in there as well, berries in particular.
Frangelico’s modern origins are surprising for the reasons listed above, and for this one: It doesn’t exactly play to a young crowd. It’s been passed over by the craft cocktail movement, and lacks horrible TV commercials with a “bartender” explaining the subtle art of pouring Frangelico into a glass with ice. Instead, it sits on the back bar gathering dust, brought out only to go into a coffee, or when someone wants something sweet on the rocks after a meal.
A few months ago, I’d had enough of this. I decided that I would come up with new and interesting things to do with Frangelico. I figured that if amaretto can get play in cocktails, why not Frangelico? It turned out to be harder than I thought.
There are very few Frangelico cocktails out there that aren’t in the “dessert” category. It is seemingly always paired with one of the following: Coffee, cream, Bailey’s, Kahlua, Creme de Banana or Creme de Cacao. It’s always suffering the indignity of whipped cream, shavings of cinnamon, or, God forbid, playing along in a layered shot. Recently, after I briefly explained my cocktail background and the challenge I had set for myself, one well-meaning liquor store employee excitedly explained to me that mixing equal parts Pinnacle “Whipped” flavored vodka and Frangelico would yield a drink that tastes just like chocolate covered pretzels. (I smiled politely and then narrowly avoided vomiting into a nearby waste bin.)
I worked at it for months during off hours at the bar and prime hours at home, pairing Frangelico with every conceivable ingredient, trying to come up with something that worked. What I wanted was not a cocktail that accepted Frangelico, but one that needed it. But it also had to be fresh, interesting, and something that compelled you to drink more.
Eventually, I came up with this. Although the ingredients may seem unexpected, I believe the combination works extremely well.
1oz reposado tequila (I prefer Casa Noble)
1oz freshly-breweed genmaicha green tea
1/2oz freshly squeezed lime juice
Large pinch of cilantro (10-12 leaves)
Add the cilantro directly to a shaker with the rest of the ingredients.
Strain the drink into an ice-filled rocks glass.
I’d encourage you try try it before rendering judgment. The hazelnut and cilantro match-up is one I’ve long suspected would work, and have not been disappointed by the way this cocktail has come out.
So, I’ve gotten one Frangelico cocktail down. Will it take another several months to create a suitable follow-up? We’ll see. But now, at last, I have something to produce whenever a guest asks, “Do you make anything with Frangelico.”
Despite my new discovery and many years of familiarity with this product, there are still times when I just can’t seem to get the cap off of the bottle. It spins, just like it did all those years before. It’s embarrassing. After all, I’m older and more experienced now, and shouldn’t be running into issues like this. On nights when the problem has come up, bar colleagues and guests have assured me that it happens to every bartender once in a while. I always unconvincingly insist that it’s the first time it’s ever happened to me.