The Spirit of Sicily

In the summer of 2010, Las Vegas native Joe Cannella paid a brief visit to his ancestral home of Sicily, where he not only learned about his family name and its ancient origins; he discovered and began to appreciate the curious beginnings of Italian elixirs, now commonly consumed as cordials, or liqueurs. The night before he left for home, he fatefully  spotted a bottle on the back bar at his hotel that would pique his interest, become the drink of choice for family gatherings, and eventually convince him to leave his day job and embark on a new adventure as the founder of Cannella Spirits, based where his family now lives in San Francisco. The bottle? “Rosolio di Cannella,” a traditional Sicilian  cinnamon liqueur.

The family name, Cannella, is the common Italian word for cinnamon. But as Joe dug deeper, it was understood that the origin of the Cannella surname was a trade name. A “Cannella” was a spice merchant. Sicily being located along the ancient maritime spice routes, the island was an important hub for the trade, which in turn influenced not only business at the ports, but the food and spirits of Southern Italy.  It was with this backdrop that Joe began to cultivate an obsession with cinnamon and other spices. Trips to his local spice shop became more and more frequent, and he began experimenting with recipes for herbal tinctures and spirits, including a homemade version of “Cannella,” a nod to the cinnamon liqueur he first discovered in Catania, Sicily.

After many iterations, he was standing  in the kitchen of his father’s Las Vegas home after Thanksgiving dinner.  Friends and family had enjoyed a bit of the homemade Cannella, and his dad (also Joe) looked at his son and simply asked “hey, you think people would buy this?.”  He had said out loud what Joe was thinking, and that was all the nudge he needed. Less than one year later they had produced and launched their first official batch of Cannella Cinnamon Cordial, and it was on the shelves in Northern California.

Having grown up in an entrepreneurial household (the family has owned small businesses in Las Vegas since the early ’80s) and studied business and finance in school, Joe had never doubted he would one day launch a company of his own. And though he knew very little about the spirits industry, he pushed forward, encouraged by the response from professional and home bartenders alike. Two and a half years in, Cannella now has distribution in 9 US states and Canada, and has launched two additional products: Fernet Cannella and Amaro Cannella.  There are plenty of reasons to start a spirits company, but if you ask Cannella why he gets up every day to grow the family business, he’ll simply say: La Sobremesa.  “It’s actually a Spanish phrase, but is an experience equally familiar to Italian homes and culture. It’s the leisurely time after you have finished eating, but before you get up from the table. Instead of rushing off the instant you’ve taken your last bite, La Sobremesa is time spent in conversation, digesting, relaxing, enjoying.

Modern culture tends to worship speed and efficiency, but looking back, my favorite evenings are always spent slowly, with no agenda, nowhere to be. A beautiful phrase, and an inspiring way to live!”

Modern spirits. Italian values. Cannella Spirits plans to introduce more of both to homes around the world. Cannella’s TV debut aired on August 31, 2017, on The Science Channel — “How it’s Made” episode. The segment, “How to Make a Cinnamon Cordial.”

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