In general, hazelnut-flavored Frangelico is one of the most in-your-face liqueurs on the backbar, almost akin to sipping on liquefied Nutella. However, a growing number of bartenders are using the Italian staple, which was acquired by Gruppo Campari in 2010, to add nuanced, nutty flavor to cocktails.
According to the producer, Frangelico originated with monks living in the hills of Italy’s Piedmont region more than 300 years ago (hence the bottle shape). It’s built on an infusion of Tonda Gentile hazelnuts—a variety valued by confectioners and chocolatiers for its distinctive sweetness—along with alcohol and water; the liqueur’s base is distilled before being combined with coffee, cocoa and vanilla distillates and extracts. The mixture is then blended with sugar and water before it’s bottled at a mellow 20 percent ABV.
The primary use for Frangelico is as a digestivo, whether poured into coffee or served as a cordial alongside, or in place of, dessert. It can be challenging in cocktails; the results may be read as heavy-handed and cloying if it isn’t used judiciously.
Some bartenders have used recipes with orgeat as a starting point for working the liqueur into cocktails, replacing the almond-based syrup with Frangelico, as in New York bar PDT’s longtime staple, the Shark, which mixes butter-infused rum, pineapple juice, Frangelico and blue Curaçao to tropical effect.
“With that drink, I was trying to go for a rich, roasty, almost wintery tiki drink,” recalls bartender John deBary, who created the drink for PDT around 2010. “The Frangelico is an accompaniment to the cream and balances the bright, citrusy notes from the other ingredients,” he says.
“I like to think of it as a sweetener,” says Sother Teague, partner at Overthrow Hospitality, who introduces the liqueur to the Old-Fashioned template in his built-in-the-glass Frangelico Old-Fashioned. The subtle tweak renders the classic especially fit for cold-weather drinking, pairing the hazelnut notes with the cinnamon and cocoa flavor of Angostura bitters.
Elsewhere, Naren Young, who describes himself as “a bit of a closet Frangelico junkie,” routinely laces drinks at his bars with the liqueur, ranging from the toddy-style Calypso Coffee (hot coffee plus rum, Frangelico and honey) to a rye-based Manhattan for two. In the case of the latter, each serving receives a quarter-ounce of the liqueur, in addition to an equal measure of walnut-based Vicario Nocino.
“I use it sparingly,” Young explains. “When applied with a steady hand, it can add some really subtle nuances to various drinks and pairs with a lot of spirits, especially aged ones.”
Similarly, at Retreat Gastropub in St. Louis, Missouri, bar manager and partner Tim Wiggins pairs bourbon and Frangelico in his Malbec-enriched twist on the New York Sour. “The Frangelico adds a savory and sweet depth that highlights the spicy red wine,” he notes. It also contributes “an oily richness” that adds to the weight of the drink on the palate.
Further proof that Frangelico has transitioned beyond the dessert menu: Young even uses the hazelnut liqueur in a Negroni variation—arguably the ultimate aperitivo. His Sparrow cocktail starts with a Cognac base, joined by Martini Bitter and Rubino vermouth, all tied together with Frangelico—but “just a whisper,” of course.