Steve Fromhart, a Park Slope resident for the past decade, has a love of all things Italian — particularly when it comes to liquors. In part, it’s his fascination with herb-based digestifs and aperitifs that inspired him to create Amaro Spirits & Wine, a new shop coming to 272 5th Avenue in the former Lucia space.
While he’s still in the very early stages of launching the business, Steve was kind enough to wet our whistles by answering a few questions about what we’ll see in the shop, how he got interested in these spirits, what kind of tastings we have to look forward to, and his favorite things about the neighborhood.
PSS: What will make your shop unique, compared to some of the other nearby wine stores in the area?
Steve Fromhart: The wine I will offer will be predominantly from small producers, natural, and mostly priced in the low to mid-range ($9 to $25 a bottle). Not so unique, I admit, but I’m capitalizing on the fact that the wine market is raging and NYC consumers have become spoiled enough to want their wine shops to be within walking distance.
The store’s uniqueness will be the liquor offerings, which will specialize in aperitifs and digestifs infused with, or distilled with or from, herbs. My shop will stock more labels of herb-based aperitifs and digestifs than any other retailer and will target a growing and receptive foodie and artisanal spirits market base. I have identified over 180 herb-based aperitivi and digestivi labels (and this does not take into account the vast amount of anise-only category). Although I will have access to about 75 of these labels that are currently imported in the U.S. from 20 different countries, I will aggressively engage distributors to import others, furthering my niche.
To give a little background, in Europe, there is an ingrained, rich culture of drinking liquors to stimulate and calm the digestive system. The common denominator for the type of aperitivi and digestivi that Amaro Spirits & Wine will carry is herbs. Sometimes they are made from one herb, such as anise or gentian, but more often they include a concoction of herbs, with the mix and exact contents guarded as trade secrets that in some cases span centuries, and almost always they were first produced for stomach-related medicinal purposes.
American consumers are familiar with after-dinner drinks, such as brandies (cognacs), sherries, ports, grappa, and various cordials, such as amaretto and Frangelico, but not as familiar with herb-based digestivi and aperitivi and the culture of drinking herbal liquors as appetite stimulants and digestives, so I have some marketing work to do.
How did you get interested in this particular aspect of the liquor world?
I am an unabashed Italophile who has embraced pretty much all aspects of Italian culture. I’ve lived in Italy, have vacationed there every year for almost two decades, speak the language, read Italian-language periodicals on a daily basis, and am an avid reader of Italian-language literature. As such, it was natural that I would discover the amaro, which literally means “bitter” in Italian, but which they also use to refer to a unique class of herb-based digestifs that are served after dinner to aid digestion. A few examples are Amaro Averna, Ramazzotti Amaro, Fernet-Branca, and Amaro CioCiaro.
On the other end of the spectrum of herb-based liquors that target cuisine in Italy are the sweeter (an amaro is usually bitter, staying true to the word’s derivation) herb-based aperitivi, such as Campari and Aperol that are imbibed usually with little snacks before a meal to stimulate the appetite. Once I discovered these herb-based liquors, I became fascinated with their variety and effectiveness, and how they related to an eating experience and culture. And I found that although the herbal drinking culture was strongest in Italy, they are also found in lots of countries and regions throughout Europe.
You’re still in the very early stages, but what are some plans for the space?
I will definitely stage lots of tastings and particularly would like to partner with local food producers to pair my wine and liquor with their various products, particularly those artisanal in nature. I would also like to get some mixologists from restaurants and bars in the area to ply their trade at tastings that entail creating interesting cocktails with some of my more unique aperitif/digestif offerings.
Do you have a favorite drink?
I drink wine every day with dinner and pair it to what I’m eating and can’t think of a country’s or region’s wine that I do not like. Likewise, I do not have a favorite aperitif or digestif because they are just too varied and I find that my selection will often relate to how I feel after I’ve eaten and what I have eaten. I’m not allergic to the occasional other spirit, also, such as a good bourbon, cognac, or grappa, to name just a few.
As for cocktails, again, it depends on my mood. Ok, well now that I really think about it, I do tend to drink the Negroni more than most cocktails. It’s an aperitif cocktail, if you’re not familiar with it — equal parts gin, vermouth, and Campari.
Tell us a little about your own background.
I was a full-time bartender for six years, from about the age of 20 to 26, and I ran a very small blacktopping business for a few summers. More recently (about six years ago), I was a minority owner and bookkeeper of a of a music rehearsal studio business that a friend had started, but I did this while maintaining a full-time job in the corporate world managing research analysts (writing mostly sovereign risk reports and product or industry white papers) in a large insurance company. Essentially, for the past 20 years, I’ve been a writer by trade with a strong academic background in macroeconomics (I’m a School of International and Public Affairs alumnus). This shop will be my first foray as a full-scale small business owner.
What are some of the things you like best about Park Slope?
I live in the heart of Park Slope, close to Prospect Park, two avenue blocks away from the shop. My wife and I moved here when she was pregnant with our first child, 10 years ago. She’s now a 5th grader at PS 321 and we have a 2nd grader, also. Our kids are Park Slope-bred creatures and through all of the school field trips, coops (we’re Food Coop members and our youngest did two years at Brooklyn Free Space), soccer games (I’ve coached my eldest daughter’s AYSO teams for the last three years, the first as assistant and last two as head coach), playdates, and business transactions, we’ve met and befriended countless people and never cease to be amazed at the span of careers, interests, ethnicities, languages, and backgrounds of the people who inhabit this neighborhood. It’s just a great place to be, and I’m extremely lucky to have found a place where I’ve spent 10 years cultivating relationships.
Keep an eye on the 5th Avenue space, and if you see Steve in there working on it, be sure to say hi. We’ll let you know when the shop gets closer to opening!