There’s no shortage of great labels when it comes to Italian beverages. Most bottlings of amaro are worthy of an art gallery and the Vietti wines are so pleasing they’re almost impossible to recycle.
Punch Fantasia falls within that rather large artistic bin, an Italian liqueur built for the crispness of winter. It wears a golden label reminiscent of an old lamp featuring a torch-wielding outdoorsman seemingly on the verge of ascending a mountain. In short, it’s a pretty thing to stare at. It’s part of a broader lineup of “punches,” or Old World concoctions to savor heated up while the snow falls.
Inside the bottle, the joy continues. Punch Fantasia is made with a particular kind of rhum from Martinique, along with a long list of botanicals. Like so many Italian liqueurs, Fantasia’s recipe is generations old and not fully disclosed. The drink hails from the Marche region of Italy, wedged between the Adriatic and the Apennine Mountains. It was devised long ago and has since been a go-to when conditions are frosty.
What does it taste like? Something to the tune of candied fruit, bright winter citrus, baking chocolate, and creamy coffee. It pours a beautiful heavy amber hue, like wild honey. And it seems built for your best thermos, en route to or from your favorite mountain slope.
Distilleria Varnelli is responsible for the drink, a family operation that began in 1868 in the rugged Sibillini Mountains. The family’s first product was Amaro Sibilla, which took home gold at the International Exhibition in Turin in 1909. The company continues to occupy quaint villages in the backcountry of Italy, stationed in the tiny dots on the map of Muccia and Pievebovigliana.
It’s said that the family is still involved in the creation of its liqueurs. Their roster includes a couple of other punches, a mandarin liqueur, and a delightful, cocoa-y less-alcoholic (about half of that of Fantasia at 18% ABV) sipper called Skipass, among others. Turns out, Amaro Sibilla is still alive and kicking, sweetened with local honey and incredibly herbal.
Anvil Bar & Refuge in Houston somewhat famously incorporated the punch in its wonderfully named Spike Tyson’s Punch-Out cocktail. The drink, introduced a few years back, mixed up three kinds of rum, along with cinnamon, orange, lime, and bitters. It was even topped with a whipped cream made from orgeat and falernum (link). More tiki in style, the cocktail offers a more summery twist on a liqueur traditionally dusted off in the winter months. But you don’t have to go the whole nine yards to enjoy Fantasia.
For starters, the bottle will look handsome atop your home bar and it has plenty of potential for mixing. Try it in a Hot Toddy, as an add-on to a Jack Rose, or with a bit of coffee or your favorite citrusy tea (plus a bit of sugar). Varnelli even suggests adding it to fruit salad or ice cream. It’s also great on its own or diluted, preferably on the warm side to thaw your wintery soul.
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