Meredith man brings his family's blackberry liqueur to market

Sunday News Correspondent
August 12. 2017 6:12PM
Frank Marino of Meredith designed his own label for his blackberry liqueur based on a generations-old family recipe. Here he affixes a sticker to a newly filled bottle that says it's made in New Hampshire. (BEA LEWIS/SUNDAY NEWS CORRESPONDENT)

MEREDITH -- A holiday tradition has grown into a bustling business for a Lakes Region man.

The grateful recipients of Frank Marino's hand-crafted old world-style blackberry liqueur often urged him to sell it, but Marino said he sidestepped the suggestion, knowing it would be a lengthy process to acquire the needed licenses.

"I always made 20 to 30 bottles a year to give to friends as Christmas gifts," said Marino, who has produced 6,000 bottles since he started commercial production in October.

The patent attorney said he found himself with some time to develop the business when the economy softened during the recession, and inventors lacked confidence to advance their projects.

Marino decided to perfect his recipe and obtain the needed state and federal approvals, seeding the business with a $50,000 loan from his retirement account. He began experimenting with his generations-old family recipe and taste-tested the results with his neighbors as they gathered to watch Patriots football.

"Some liked it sweeter, some liked it stronger," Marino said, while bottling his blackberry sipper at his Meredith production facility.

"It took three weekends to select the final recipe. I think we could have done it in one, but they refused without extensive research," Marino said of his recipe development team, as he stood next to pallets of bottles waiting to be filled.

When held to the light, the liquid's rich deep dark purple hue, bordering on black, offers evidence that three-quarters of a pound of newly harvested berries go into each bottle.

Frank Marino packs bottles of Morecello, an Old World Italian-style after-dinner drink that he is producing under the Black Cove Beverages flag. (BEA LEWIS/SUNDAY NEWS CORRESPONDENT)

Marino buys the bulk of his supplies in New Hampshire but concedes the blackberries are grown in Washington state, a selection he made begrudgingly in order to obtain a year-round supply of fresh fruit.

The process used to produce his liqueur doesn't use heat, so Marino says the nutrients in the berries are not degraded and the fresh-picked flavor that conjures up days of sunshine remains. Blackberries pack more antioxidants than most any other fruit. Scientific studies suggest antioxidant compounds may have potential health benefits against cancer, aging, inflammation, and neurological diseases.

"It may be the healthiest thing you can buy in a liquor store," Marino said said.

The 0.375-liter bottles, Marino explained, were designed to fit in a Christmas stocking. Bottles are filled, corked, topped with a gold shrink seal then labeled before being packed 12 to a case. Marino has named his 50-proof (25 percent alcohol) product as Morecello, "Mora" being Italian for blackberry.

"It's really good in mixed drinks like a blackberry martini or a blackberry margarita," Marino said. "When you put it in milk it tastes just like black raspberry ice cream. That's the way my mother drinks it."

Its syrupy consistency also makes Morecello a tasty topping for ice cream or other desserts, including ricotta pie.

Marino said the easiest part of the conversion to commercial production was dealing with the state. He was able to register his Black Cove Beverages company name with the Secretary of State's Office, secure his trademark and open an account with the New Hampshire Liquor Commission in less than an hour and a half.

"I had 90 minutes on the parking meter, and when I got back to the car there was time left. The state license was very easy. It's like a partnership. The state wants to see small business succeed."

Given a trial run in New Hampshire's state liquor stores, Marino said, he was thrilled when he got a call from the liquor commission reporting the first month's sales were sufficiently brisk that Morecello would be permanently stocked. He's sold 1,700 bottles so far to the state, and has more than 4,000 bottles in stock as he prepares to expand beyond New Hampshire.

Marino has no employees, hiring contract labor as needed. He owns his building and leases it to his company. 

For the past six months, he's been trying to expand his market into neighboring Massachusetts. "Their system disincentivizes and is burdensome to sellers of small-quantity items," he said. If he sold Morecello in the Bay State he would have to go through a wholesaler, and the per-bottle price for consumers would be 45 percent more than it is in New Hampshire, Marino said.

In the Lakes Region, Morecello is served at Giuseppe's Pizzeria & Ristorante, the Lake House and Lago, all in Meredith. Other locations include the Tuscan Kitchen in Salem and Piccola Italia Ristorante in Manchester.

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