By Jo-Anne MacKenzie
---- — SALEM, N.H. — First, when life handed them lemons, the Mastroianni brothers made limoncello.
Now, they’re peeling more fruit and making Fabrizia Blood Orange Liqueur.
Their new product is on the shelves in 25 of New Hampshire’s biggest liquor stores and in five other states, co-owner Philip Mastroianni said last week.
Hopes are high they will realize the same success they have seen with their limoncello.
Just four years ago, the brothers were advertising for peelers on Craigslist for one-day lemon peeling jobs.
Now, they have two fulltime employees, a gold medal from the 2012 San Francisco World Spirits Competition and a following that’s growing across the country.
Their story has humble beginnings.
On a trip to visit relatives in Calabria, Italy, about five years ago, Philip Mastroianni was taken with a cousin’s limoncello, brewed from lemons grown on their property.
He brought a taste for the popular Italian drink — and the recipe — home. At first, he brewed up small batches for fun and personal pleasure.
But when he brought a bottle to a family gathering, he said, his Uncle Joe told him he should get into serious production.
They took the plunge, but maintained their day jobs, something Philip Mastroianni still does, but with most hours devoted to the fledgling liqueur business.
It’s labor intensive. The fruit — the lemons and now the blood oranges — must be peeled by hand, then the rinds are steeped in grain alcohol. They make batches of 800 bottles at a time, everything still done by hand.
Lemons are a lot easier to peel than blood oranges, he said, which have a thinner skin and the fruit is trickier to hold while peeling. It takes about twice as long to peel a blood orange as it does a lemon, according to Mastroianni.
The new liqueur includes a small amount of blood orange juice as well, which gives the high-alcohol drink its soft orange color. It’s 27 percent alcohol, so it does carry a kick.
The limoncello business took off. It’s now sold in nine states.
That’s a lot of lemons. Some 1,800 lemons are peeled every week. Now, they’ve added blood oranges to the mix.
But Mastroianni doesn’t take any credit for coming up with the new product.
“We have a very loyal following,” Mastroianni said. “This year, a lot of accounts started asking for blood orange liqueur. They started saying, ‘When are you going to start making it?’”
The answer? Last spring. They’re now on their fourth batch.
Unlike lemons, which are available year round, blood oranges only come in three times a year — from Chile in the summer, Australia in the fall and California in the winter.
While blood orange juice is a typical breakfast drink in Italy, it’s popular as an alcoholic flavor here.
They’re testing the new product in state liquor stores in much they same way they did with their limoncello. They started selling it Nov. 1 and have six months to sell 1,300 bottles statewide. That will earn them shelf space for a year.
Their limoncello is now a permanent fixture in state liquor stores. Both liqueurs retail for under $20 for a 750 ml bottle.
“We are Number 2 of nine brands of limoncello in New Hampshire, Number 2 in Vermont, Number 2 in Ohio,” Mastroianni said. “We have no problem being Number 2.”
There’s less competition on the shelf with the blood orange liqueur, but they may change as the flavor grows in popularity.
“The response has been great,” Mastroianni said. “I think people have responded so positively, we should have started with this.”