Every winter, the bitter orange trees that line the main boulevards in Monte Carlo burst with fruit, which Philip Culazzo remembers vividly from his childhood visits to Monaco. “They look like Christmas baubles, but really fragrant—they’ve never been treated with chemicals,” he says of these urban citrus groves, a throwback to an earlier era, when the principality still owned swaths of nearby farmland. But the adult Culazzo, who owns a seafood-trading company, was startled to learn the fate of these fruits: All but a handful of the 33,000 pounds produced by the 600 or so trees was simply incinerated, wasted like a delicious inconvenience. Wondering why it couldn’t be put to good use, he sourced a handful of oranges and started dabbling in distilling on the weekends, using equipment he’d bought as a hobbyist.
The resulting spirit (a tangy liqueur, not too sweet, closer to an Italian amaro than to Cointreau) became known as L’Orangerie and was the first product launched under Culazzo’s La Distillerie de Monaco banner six years ago. Working from a jewel box–sized storefront in La Condamine, a short walk from Port Hercules, he soon branched out into gin, using locally grown botanicals and citrus. He wanted to call it Le Rocher but was stymied: The name is one of three trademarks, including Monaco and Monte Carlo, owned by the state. Instead, he opted to depict the palace’s craggy clifftop perch on the bottle, a gorgeous Art Deco–inflected objet that’s a keepsake in itself. Culazzo also makes a limited-edition 250-euro-per-bottle (about $265) gin for the nearby Hotel du Cap-Eden-Roc, a pine-forward version spiked with botanicals from the resort’s gardens; the image on its bottle is of the seafront hotel.
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Next up, though, is perhaps his most exciting project yet. Monaco was once synonymous with a local grog known as mesccia—Monegasque for “mix”—and Culazzo has partnered with Prince Albert himself (among others) to revive this tradition, refining the spirit for modern palates. The new, royally approved mesccia is more upscale, made from first-press sugarcane juice and thus more akin to fine rum, and will be offered in both aged and white versions, with the aged iteration spending time in vermouth casks. Culazzo aims to launch it early next year.
We suggest picking up a bottle at the distiller’s shop front; the brand exports to only a handful of countries, mostly in Europe. It’s simply a matter of capacity: Though he has just acquired a nearly 2,200-square-foot annex to expand production, his store basement is still piled high with bottle caps, and the juice press sits in the corner primed for use come winter. “We’re the opposite of what people think about Monaco—those, big fancy places,” Culazzo says. “We do everything by hand.”
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