If you ask Renato Vicario what prompts him to produce a line of exquisite handcrafted liqueurs, he’ll tell you it’s a labor of love. He’s not exaggerating. Making liqueurs is hard work, especially if, like Vicario and his wife, Janette Wesley, you do everything—from growing and harvesting the herbs to bottling the spirits—by hand.
Their line of garden-to-glass libations, launched in 2014, now includes a brandy, a grappa, and soon, a botanical gin. Vicario, author of Italian Liqueurs (2011), was born in Baveno, Italy, near Lake Maggiore, where he grew up making liqueurs with his grandmother and great-grandmother.
On the first Saturday in November, the couple will be opening their lovely new tasting room, located in a small house in front of their production facility in Greer. There, in comfy chairs by the fireplace, you can sample some of Vicario’s 16 products, then take a tour to learn about the art of liqueur making. “The important thing to me is the education behind [the liqueurs],” says Renato, “the knowledge of the actual elements that go into them.”
These elements are all natural, which is evident as Janette starts my tour in the retail space by opening jars of dried aromatic herbs and allowing me to sniff each one while explaining its use in Vicario liqueurs. We continue into the warehouse, where the libations are blended, macerated, and bottled, and peek into the small “herbal apothica,” stacked with bins of dried herbs that Renato will use in his formulas.
The herbs come from the couple’s six-acre organic garden, right outside, where Janette proudly points out rows of French tarragon for Dragoncello, lemon verbena for Herba Luisa (the Spanish name of the herb), cardoons for their Artichoke Liqueur, and herbs I’m unfamiliar with, such as the Wall germander that goes into their Amore Mio Aperitivo. Renato painstakingly recreated this version of Campari from his memory of the company’s 1950s recipe.
“We get so much sincere appreciation from people who taste our liqueurs,” Janette reveals. That includes local mixologists who feature them in cocktails at Husk, Bacon Bros., and The Anchorage. Salute! to making spirits bright.
For more information on Vicario Spirits, visit salutellc.com
Vicario’s Artisanal Liqueurs
This aromatic liqueur, which garnered a Good Food Award in 2016, takes its name from Artemisia dracunculus, or French tarragon, the principal herb in Renato’s recipe.
Made from unripe green walnuts from Italy, Nocino offers a taste of fall with its warm, nutty notes. Sip it slowly after a meal, or use it to flavor baked goods.
// Savage Cherry
An ancient and endangered variety of wild sour cherry (Viscole de Cantiano), grown on the couple’s property in Cortona, Italy, forms the base for this rare liqueur.
// Monk’s Secret
Akin to a medieval recipe for Chartreuse, which Renato uncovered in a diary written by Venetian monks in the thirteenth century, this complex amaro contains more than 15 different herbs and spices.