Chinottissimo, the rescue of a very Italian drink
Exclusive. Simone Neri's company relaunches family recipes and aims to Russian market
In the beginning it was the chinotto. In other words, a drink based on an infusion of chinotto, one of the lesser known citrus fruits with strong digestive and anti-inflammatory properties. Developed after the war, when sugar was scarce (and saccharin was badly suited for this purpose), by Pietro Neri, a brilliant 25-year-old engaged with his family in the production of soft drinks and ice in the Mandrione area, south of Rome. A drink that experienced an extraordinary commercial boom in the 1950s and 1960s, counteracting the invasion of the first colas thanks to its pleasantly bitter taste. And a recipe with 8 herbs (sweet and bitter orange, rhubarb, aloe, hawthorn, mint, gentian and chinotto) very welcome to the general public: who memorized the proto claim "it is not chinotto if there is no 8” launched by Neri himself, now a Commander, and proclaimed loudly in the Caroselli.
40 million bottles later (in the meantime the Gassosa, the Spuma, the Aranciosa and the Limoncedro were born), a painful sale and 50 years later, the original chinotto returns to the limelight of wine bars and wine shops but with a suffix plus: that is, an absolute superlative that transforms it into ChinottISSIMO. Strongly desired by Pietro's first nephew, Simone , who in 2000, rolling up his hands, relaunched the drink in the name of quality at 360°. “My family sold the brand but not the original recipe”, explains the entrepreneur, now president of Chinottissimo PNeri srl, “which has always remained our property, the true secret of the ancient success. So, at the time thanks also to our grandfather, we decided to propose it again but with an extra sprint: that is, adding 53 extracts of officinal herbs (including yarrow, black currant and ginseng) that enhance the flavor of chinotto, giving it more fragrance and a retro taste. The result? An extraordinary product. To the point that at fairs I've always had to go around with handkerchiefs: because the most agée people started to cry when they rediscovered a flavor imprinted in their memory”.
After the initial inconveniences, the Issimo operation takes off: and production grows, with a turnover that exceeds 150 thousand euros in 2015, and then doubled in 2019, with an increase of 56.78%, thanks also to the launch of 4 other drinks (always the result of family recipes) that complete the line, up to exceeding 1 million and 500 thousand bottles. In fact, GassoSSIMA, with Sicilian lemons, excellent on its own but ideal for "breaking up" other drinks, also in the wake of the flavors of antan, LemonISSIMO, with 12% lemon pulp, ArancISSIMA, with 20% blood orange, all without dyes and preservatives, and SpumISSIMA, a simil - chinotto with fewer herbs, sweeter and more similar to colas, a cousin of the popular 1960s foam, once widespread in taverns. Which with its 300 thousand bottles is a good second in production, behind the 500 thousand of ChinottiSSIMO.
The quality of the raw materials is then combined with “a natural low mineral content water, not flat, chosen after many checks”, explains Neri, “which can be seen from Sila, in Calabria, where we now have our plants. Because the water for soft drinks is important and represents 90% of the product". Moreover, always packaged in glass bottles and with high definition PVC labels, all different from each other.
I am not satisfied with the successes (ChinottISSIMO is included in the basket of Products of Excellence of the Lazio Region and in the circuit of the Historical Botteghe of Rome) as well as with the title of Cavaliere del Commercio for having re-proposed a historical recipe, protagonist of the relaunch of Rome after the war, Neri in the 2019 an alcoholic amaro based on chinotto is invented, made with a secret mix of spontaneous herbs from the Abruzzo National Park, in a limited and vintage edition: it is the Amaro Neri, which immediately depopulated among mixologists, in the drink lists and sales on line. By contributing, with its 160 thousand E of turnover, to support the young company in the annus horribilis 2020.
Of course, the glories of the 60s are far away. “But the market today is different, saturated with soft drinks”, explains Neri. “However, we make typically Italian non-commercial natural drinks, intended for consumers who are attentive to health and quality. In short, we aim to stand out. And if it weren't for the pandemic, we were on the launching pad, ready to triple our turnover: our production potential is enormous, even reaching 1 million bottles per week. While today we are proceeding on a narrow gauge, with 100 thousand pieces per month. And with communication turned to radio and sales shifted to home deliveries and online”.
Those who have sown well in the past are now reaping their fruits: these days, in fact, the agreement with Russia for an export equal to one million euros In times of embargo, a great success for grandfather Pietro's drinks.
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