Giancarlo Mancino is a well-known italian bartender and beverage consultant that has worked all around the world. But more importantly (at least for us) he is the man behind Mancino Vermouth and Rinomato Aperitivo. Today he took some time to answer our questions about his brands and – of course – himself.
Perola: You were born in the small town of Pignola in Italy, which was a very rural place and we can imagine there were not a lot of bars.
Giancarlo: (laughs) No, no: zero!
Perola: When growing up there, what made you think „I want to be a bartender, I want to work with spirits?“
Giancarlo: I lived in this village with about 5.000 people. I was serving at the church, with sisters – I was a church boy. I was always with the priest, serving on Sundays, playing football in the streets. That was my childhood, how I grew up. But then of course, there was a pub in the village, sponsored by Stella Artois, the belgian beer. I started to work at this little pub as a waiter and saw my first cash. Like real cash. 50.000 Lire, which would be about 25 Euro at the moment. Every weekend! This was the input for my hospitality career. I was only 15, it was actually illegal to work. But I was working weekends and serving food – hot dogs, burgers, little pizzas. It was a really nice pub with live music and it was three minutes away from my house, so my parents allowed me to do this every weekend. At the same time I realized there was easy money in hospitality. I enjoyed to serve people and work in the crowd. We used to meet people, we used to drink and eat for free, we had fun and we used to meet girls. The whole thing was great, so I became more and more excited. After one year I became manager of the place. I was 17 years old at that time. For two years I was studying at the college and then working in the pub. After that I went to study hospitality in New York and started my hospitality career.
Perola: After that you worked in big cities like London, Manhattan or Hong Kong – but do you nowadays still take inspiration from this small town for your work?
Giancarlo: Oh yes, definitely. First of all it’s the education of my parents – they always lead me in the right direction. And I’m always honest, in the business as well, of course. Even when working in the pub and when the cash was easy. That’s one my key strategies: always be honest in the business. Definitely I take lots of inspiration for my work in big cities from the hospitality of a small village. We are famous for our true hospitaly in south italy as well. How we serve, how we talk – you know, we are very light, when we serve. We talk with the people, we enjoy ourselves and enjoy going into bartending or becoming waiters. All of that. That was a good base for me to love the job and to always smile at my customers. It was a good place for me to start before working in the top bars.
Perola: Later on, you got into real bartending in the late nineties in Manhattan …
Giancarlo: That was near 2000, I worked in a 5 Stars Hotel. After the twin towers, they moved me to London, where I met Salvatore Calabrese. I worked with him in the Maestro for five years. That’s when I stepped into europe again, in terms of real classic bartending. At that time there was nobody else in London. New bars over and over and everything, that came later. There was not much competition. We were there, just doing correct martinis. That was when I met my wife as well – in the bar. So it’s a very historical bar for me. But also I did a non-alcoholic book together with Salvatore, or I was present when he was doing the book. I won a few competitions left and right, I was part of UK BG, where Salvatore was the president as well. Basically the Maestro showed where bartending in europe was heading, together with the Savoy American Bar when Peter Dorelli was there. Salvatore and I are very good friends now.
Perola: After your time in Manhattan and London you went to Mumbai and Malaysia …
Giancarlo: Yes, Salvatore decided to leave the Maestro. Salvatore went to the 50 St. James Casino, where he opened his bar in London. And then actually we started to work together again for this project. Then I had the proposal from One&Only Hotels, to become a consultant for them in Mauritius. That’s why I started my consulting business back in 2005. So I went to Mauritius. I asked Salvatore what he thinks and he said „Go ahead, that’s brilliant!“. So my first consulting job was for the One&Only Le Saint Geran, which is one of the top hotels on Mauritius. Sean Connery was there in his summer holiday. Great golfer, had a Martini at the bar. For me this was amazing, all this Luxury. I opened a few more objects with them like the Royal Club Bahrain. Then I did a project by Taj Hotels in India, when I moved to india with my family, my wife and my dogs. We stayed in India for four years and I opened about 20 bars with Taj Hotels. Then in 2008 also I opened my own restaurant in Bangalore, that’s the city were I was based with Taj Hotels. One Ambassador came to me, which was also a client and until today we are best friends. He came to me and said: Giancarlo, I wanna do your restaurant. So we came up with this place called Giancarlos Place. It had two floors. Very oriented onto the cocktail bar but also a lot of italian influence: We had italian cuisine, pizza and tapas, we had a cigar room. We had this luxurious italian restaurant and a coffee place. The place was very succesfull - some of the other partners and my best friend, they came to me and said: we wanna buy you out. That’s when I started to make my first money. I went back to London with a little bit of cash, where I was approached by the Ritz-Carlton Hong Kong to open the tallest bar in the world called OZONE. After the work there was done, I went again to Hong Kong with my wife to open this place, for three weeks. At my first trip I was already like „Wow!“ but it was when we arrived for the opening, that I realized that this was the city for us. That’s when I moved my company from London to Hong Kong. I realized it was a very friendly city, it was easy to open a company there. That’s why I have been a resident of Hong Kong for eight years now. There is also the base form y company and Mancino Vermouth as well.
Perola: From your experience: Is there a difference between working with bars, bartenders and spirits in asia and in europe or the US?
Giancarlo: Definitely. In Hong Kong I also decided to come up with my vermouth. I started to work with a 2 Michelin Star Restaurant, it’s called Otto e Mezzo – Bombana. We caught 3 Michelin Stars together. Michelin believed, a bar was missing. That’s why they gave the additional star later. So we did this beautiful bar, everything italian. We were the first to make Old Fashioneds there, Negronis, the superclassic cocktails. Hong Kong was a really bad market back in 2009/2010. For example nobody was using a mixing glass. That is only 8 years from now. When I worked there, I used to bring the craft spirits, I used to bring the barware, I used to bring everything because there was nothing there. I became like a little bit of the pioneer of the city. Okay, Japan was always there. But then again they always did the classic cocktail the japanese way. But yeah, the cities like Hong Kong, Singapore or countries like Malaysia or Thailand, they were very behind in all that. That’s why, when I arrived in Asia I thought: „Wow, that’s a lot to do here.“ Basically I brought the idea of european bartending to Asia. But at the same time, they are very picky in terms of quality. That’s why they are successful and why there’s that superhype now. To answer your question for the difference between Europe and Asia – they are totally different markets. Asians are a lot more into the quality – so they are willing to pay up to 25€ for a cocktail. The consumers are educated, they are on social media 24/7. They study about the cocktail they had the night before. So it’s not just a casual drink they have in order to sit down, like in the older big cities. To be honest with you: In Asia, the big players in our industry, don’t play a lot. In Europe we have this pay&play business. Also in America with all the bar programs with money. In Asia they are really looking into the craft, they are looking for the difference. They look into simplicity, but with craft liqueurs and craft spirits. Beautiful glassware and lots and lots and lots of hospitality. So for me in the moment, in general Asia is the top of the rank in terms of complete bar. Even though we had to marriage the two worlds together to make it to the top.
Perola: Speaking about Japan and craft spirits, let’s talk a little bit about the Sakura vermouth. You started making it exclusively for the Mandarine Oriental, but short time later it was distributed globally.
Giancarlo: This is the fast forward version of the story. Mancino is very strong in Japan. In the end of 2016 the bar manager of the Mandarine Oriental, one of our best customers, had an idea for the next Sakura season: „If you can get some Sakura, you do some Sakura cocktails with mancino.“ Just that easy, he put that on the table. And then I said: I like the idea. He said: „You should do a spirit with your Bianco a little bit, a little bit with Sakura.“ So I said: „I can do that. But if I do it, I wanna do it properly and maybe what we use is seasonal Sakura from Kyoto. But we only do that, if you can find me an extract of Sakura from Japan, because i will not use any flavored cherries or whatever in my liquid. I want do it properly.“ After that we gave the Mandarine Oriental exclusivity for one year and did some bottles with the Mandarine Oriental logo. We launched in 2017 and basically it was the Bianco with some different botanicals. It also has the extract of a toscan violet. So basically you have the sensation of Mancino Bianco with some extras and at first, it sounds like a much too sweet liqueur, but in the end it’s super bitter because it’s a defract of the Mancino Bianco which is full of quinin and gentian and elderflowers as well. So we had extracted Sakura from Kyoto, from the 2016 season. We were launching for the march of 2017. And now we finish the batch from march 2018. I had around 4000 bottles for Europe and America. And then we left few more bottles for this year and then for the january of 2019 we have 12000 bottles. I know that, because we already have the extract from Kyoto we claimed for this year.
Perola: Another one of your very special vermouths is the Chinato which is a little more classic: A very complex blend of red wine, china bark and three other mancino vermouths. How hard was it to find the recipe?
Giancarlo: The beginning of Mancino Chinato was another category that disappeard, which is the Vermouth Chinato – a Vermouth with a lot of chinchona bark in it. It was very big in 1930, 1940, 1950 and was created from wine, from wine companies in Italy. But it was a little bit like a necklace in the portfolios. So what I’ve done basically is a combination of Secco, Bianco and Rosso extract. And then I added the Trebbiano white wine and 100% Barbera, which is one of my favorite red wines and which is even mentioned at the label. So basically, the most important thing is that people read the label: there is a lot of more of important information that mentions the wines, the province of the wines and the majority. You should look at the label of the Rosso where we say thats it’s a Trebbiano IGP. And also on the Mancino Chinato we mention even the name of the manufacterers. So basically, yes, it’s a combination of my three vermouths which are Secco, Bianco and Rosso. Then we add this 100% Barbera and 19 gramms of chinchona bark. In this practical case it‘s called the Mancino Vermouth Chinato, because in the market there are some wine chinatos like Barbera Chinato, Marolo Chinato, Barolo Chinato. But they are wine with botanicals. They are aromatized wines and not fortified wine, they’re no vermouth. The Mancino Chinato is the combination I needed and he was nominated for the Mixology Award in Germany last year. Also all the top sommeliers they use it as dessert wine, they use it as after-dinner wine, they use it with cigars, it’s like sommeliers went crazy – and then of course bartenders combine it in Negronis, Manhattans, in the classic cocktails. The Chinato is one of my babies for sipping at night.
Perola: So let’s talk about one Vermouth we don’t have in germany yet: the Mancino Veccio.
Giancarlo: Ah, yes! It’s the first ever aged italian vermouth in the world. It’s my Mancino Rosso aged in an italian oak barrel of 600 liters. We keep it in there, for one year through all four seasons under rain, humidity and under the sun. And by that we get 800 bottles a year. And what is happening now: The puerto rican rum company Don Q takes our used barrels and is doing rum inside of my barrels. This should be the first rum ever with a vermouth cask finish in italian oak barrels and it is actually been very successfull, they just won the platinum medal somewhere. Now we start lots of relations with Don Q because of the success.
Perola: Are you planning on aging any other of your vermouths?
Giancarlo: No, no, no, because it’s super difficult. We always do 800 bottles a year. 600 Liters. We are batching at the first of october, and put 600 liters in the casks when we get the wine. So the Veccio Is the Mancino Vermouth Rosso Barricato. My Rosso with no caramell. Then we age it for one year, then we add the caramell, then we bottle it and that’s it.
Perola: You created your vermouths to do your Negronis and other drinks properly and how you like them. Was it the same with Rinomato, the Aperitivo Deciso and the Americano, were they made the same for the same purpose?
Giancarlo: Correct. The idea for Rinomato started very similar to Mancino. Again I was not entirely satisfied with what the market offered. That’s why i came out with the Rinomato brand - together with my american importer. We worked already very close for Mancino Vermouth and one day I said to him: „I think America needs something like Campari, but will use the same botanicals as for Mancino.“ That’s more easy for me to produce, because there is no wine. So I can make it, but I need your help. Financially and especially for selling everything because i’m busy with Mancino.“ That’s why we started, that’s why we call it this away, that’s why I produce everything by myself. So basically Rinomato is a company founded by me and by 33 % it’s mine. We produce everything out of Mancino Destillery and use the same ingredients as for Mancino, but in a different way. Basically this is the brand of Rinomato. When it comes to the Americano category at the market you find only Cocchi. And I say: Why is this guy taking the whole world with one brand? I want to do the Americano by myself, too. For me, this one is one of the best products in the whole portfolio I have. I’m speaking here as a bartender, because it’s super complex. The Rinomato Americano Bianco has three kinds of wines: the Trebbiano, there is a Fiano which is a south italian wine and then there is Hermes which is the wine from Piemonte. Including gentian, fruits from france and then it has complex flavors of bergamotts and lavender. You will experience the sweetness of Panettone, the italian christmas dessert, and then you have the super medicinal bitters of gentian in the end. It’s just incredible.
Perola: The categories of italian bitter liqueurs are very wide. Are there any other liqueurs or italian spirits that you would want to do if you had the time or the money?
Giancarlo: Yes, I think definitely there a four. We are in the pipeline to make a Marsala, which I think is gonna come next year. We call it Marsala Mancino and it is produced directly in Sicily. We are aging already for three years and we will do something special and wonderful. Then definitely there will be a set of a seasonal Amaros, like an Amaro for summer, an Amaro for winter, one for spring, one for fall, you know. There are a lot of liqueurs in Italy which need to be redeveloped as well. Think about Limoncello, it has been destroyed completely. I want to do an incredibly Limoncello with which bartenders can do Lemondrop Sours, they can use it for a basil lemon liqueur. Everybody using extract now, no more lemon peels. But that’s just to give you an idea about it. Everything depends on how the company grows and how many fires we can put into the oven. Imagine how many lines of liqueurs we have in Italy, especially in the south. Herbal liqueurs like the Fernet, we will talk about Fernet. Why only Fernet Branca? There is a lot Fernet in Italy which is alive. Unbelievable and totally different. So again, it’s our part to rediscover and bring back the quality of forgotten and destroyed categories. That’s the idea what I exactly wanted to do with the vermouth category.
Perola: And now something completely different: It’s not well known in Germany, but you are also working with Italesse at the wormwood collections. A series of cocktail glasses featuring a very great mixing glass.
Giancarlo: Yes, that’s called Gallone, which is an older style mixing glass of Italy which has always brought it‘s own style. But it is difficult: Bartenders buy the Gallone and then put barspoons inside and their muddlers. *laughs* They use it as a vase. They put everything inside. So what I do: When you hold it between your fingers you can mix differently than with a mixing glass. You can easily put six Negronis or even Martinis in that glass. With the movement of your hand and the ice inside you are stirring, I love that tool. I can’t tend bar without that tool. The line of the glassware just looks back to 1930/1920 because it’s small. Especially for the Martini, if you look at the Martini Astoria glass, it’s like you rather wanna have two Martinis and not one big Martini that is getting warm. That‘s why this collaboration started three years ago and it worked extremely well.
Perola: How important do you think is the perfect glassware when you want a perfect drink?
Giancarlo: It’s very important for me: A perfect glass, high quality ice and three top craftspirits. This is what you need for sexy drinks, that are on point. Not going crazy with the garnish – nothing.
Perola: What would be your perfect drink for an italian aperitivo?
Giancarlo: I would say the classic americano. But the way i do it: I shake two parts of my Rosso together with one part Rinomato and I pour first the soda, then I double strain the spirits into the highballglas and then I top up again with soda with a twist of grapefruit, that’s it. Nothing else.
Perola: That’s a very cool way to make a americano.
Giancarlo: You can call it Americano – my way.