When A Gin & Tonic Literally Changes Your Life…

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The botanicals grow in a beautiful vegetable garden, surrounded by trees overlooking the Ponte Tresa valley, not far from Varese and just a stone’s throw from the Swiss border.

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Nature at its smallest scale, leaves of basil, sage, cilantro and wormwood, thrives alongside the soaring trunks of majestic beech, chestnut and oak trees. And here, between these two extremes, is where one of the most elegant adventures in the Italian spirits trade began a few years ago: Cillario&Marazzi, the distillery behind the “bespoke” gin creations made for Grand Hotel Tremezzo and Passalacqua. But before we describe them (and taste them!), before the notes of rose petals and bergamot, pepper and galangal delight our senses, let’s allow Attilio Cillario and his wife Ausilia, two of the protagonists in this fairytale adventure, to tell their story. Not that the origins are particularly romantic – after all, Attilio was a well-known criminal lawyer in Milan for 30 years – but they provide essential background for this small business’s incredible success story, which started among friends and is now writing a new chapter in five-star and three-Michelin-star luxury. It was in these woods that Attilio spent the weekends of his childhood, adolescence and early adulthood, already dating his college classmate Ausilia before he turned twenty. Then, as a young family, they returned for weekend trips and vacations with friends in tow. Every visit to this storybook setting was a time of reunion, conviviality, rejuvenation – until, for Attilio and Ausilia, it started to look more like their chance at a new life. A brand-new start for a couple well into midlife.

“The day Attilio and Gigi met the resident bartender at Grand Hotel Tremezzo, they had already come up with a bespoke gin for some of Italy’s finest hospitality brands. However, Grand Hotel Tremezzo meant double the challenge, with Passalacqua in the mix. Two properties, two personalities, one single family”

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Inventing a gin, or tailoring it to fit the client’s personality, is called apparecchiare in Italy, or “setting the table”. And when it comes to creating a new gin, a spirit with four centuries of history behind it, born in Holland in 1650 and later brought to India by the English to cure malaria, you have to be a bit of a magician and a bit of an alchemist to set this particular table. In the sense that you must translate emotions into a flavor profile. Attilio has exceptional taste memory, allowing him not only to capture a place through the olfactory sensations it evokes, but also to accurately replicate them in the botanical blend. In fact, all it takes is one gram more or less of each ingredient – a single basil leaf picked from the garden on a sunny or a cloudy day – to completely change the taste.

The day Attilio and Gigi met the resident bartender at Grand Hotel Tremezzo, they had already come up with a bespoke gin for some of Italy’s finest hospitality brands. However, Grand Hotel Tremezzo meant double the challenge, with Passalacqua in the mix. Two properties, two personalities, one single family. It was also double the fun, says Attilio, finding the perfect profile to highlight the unique features of each place. To describe the allure of Grand Hotel Tremezzo, a palace built in 1910, what choice do we have other than embracing classicism? And so, Tremezzo Gin, in a bottle that evokes the pleasure of a dip in the pool, is certainly “classic”, but by no means solemn. The ideal balance of rose petal and bergamot provides a certain softness, with masculine undertones coming from the blend of juniper, coriander, cardamom, orris root, licorice and Lampong, Szechuan as well as Timut pepper.


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Ausilia and Attilio have always loved to cook. Once, after a hunting trip to the Alsace, Attilio tried his hand at distilling his own Mirabelle plum brandy. To his surprise, it turned out even better than the original. Gin had not yet appeared on the horizon, but it was only a matter of time. As chance would have it, Attilio was defending one of his friends in court at the time, an engineer by the name of Gigi Marazzi, in what was essentially an absurd quarrel between neighbors. Attilio won the case and refused to charge his friend, so Gigi presented him with a one-hundred-liter copper still as a token of gratitude. In the eyes of the law, this still was too large for private use – especially for a rule-of-law kind of guy like Attilio – so it landed in the basement and that was the end of that. But it wasn’t the end of the idea of making gin, at least not for Gigi, who kept the dream alive. Two years of experimenting later, with friends lining up to volunteer as tasters and more family weekends in the house in the woods, an intense and deeply personal flavor profile – the “right” one – emerged from the still. They had done it at last. In 2016, Attilio and Gigi applied for a distiller’s license, it was granted in 2017, and the first fifty bottles of Cillario&Marazzi gin were born. One of them, brought by a friend, ended up in the hands of the barman at the Trussardi Café. Around the same time, Attilio and Gigi took part in a “Gin Day”; their booth may have been small, but their idea grand ambitions. The label on the bottle read “Your name here.” And by your name, they meant your story, your character, your world. Yours and only yours. Tailor-made like a Savile Row suit. A “bespoke” gin created just for you.

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And Passalacqua Gin? Easygoing, upbeat, as feminine as the silhouette on the label, with citrus notes more intense than those in Tremezzo, Ribera orange rather than bergamot and a rose-scented olfactory tone that lingers on the palate. You might be wondering what became of the hundred-liter still. Rescued from the basement, this marvelous copper cistern has pride of place on the ground floor of the Cillario home surrounded by the famous forest where this all began. Attilio, returning from the garden with a selection of the most delicate leaves of sage, is developing a new flavor profile. He uses the traditional London Dry method: spring water and a base alcohol made from organic and kosher Italian wheat with a basket of botanicals at the top of the alembic still. After a final bit of flour paste to seal the boiler, the flame is lit, and the magic can begin. But when you really think about it, the most magical moment of all was the one that surprised this couple and their closest friends in the middle of life’s journey. An entirely new existence, a new career, a second chance at success. If there is a toast to be made, gin & tonic in hand, it is to this new-found happiness, as inspiring as it is enviable.