The Pallini surname is derived from palla, the Italian word for cannon ball. Hence, Pallini is thought to have originally been an occupational name for someone who made shot or cannon balls. The name is particularly associated with Rome where the Pallini company is based.
The company was established by Nicola Pallini, who was born 1851 the son of a poor family in Civitella del Tronto, a small town in central Italy’s Abruzzo region. By the age of 15 he was a merchant, selling clothes and chestnuts in the local marketplaces and village fairs. Illiterate, he taught himself to read and write and by 20 he had achieved such business success that he was considered affluent. Due to its rail connections, he moved 70km to Antrodoco, a small town on the border between Lazio and Abruzzo where he set up a general store.
His business interests grew to include coal imports from Germany, farming and the export of chestnuts, and he operated the local bank. However, it was the trading in wine and liqueurs for his general store, the largest in the area that brought him into the drinks industry to establish Pallini in 1875.
He built an imposing four-storey building in the main square of Antrodoco, the ground floor of which housed the store, warehouse and bank. The first floor was used as offices and the two floors above were where the Pallini family lived. In the basement he produced wine and a variety of liqueurs such as anise and rosolio, mainly for sale at Christmas and Easter.
Anise liqueurs and spirits are traditional in this area and some say that sambuca was first made in the province of Rieti. Hence, Pallini made a range of anise products including mistrà, anice secco, anisetta and sambuca – products the company still make to this day.
In 1900, two of Nicola’s sons, Virgilio and Fidelfo, joined their father’s business with Virgilio looking after wine and liquor production and distribution while Fidelfo oversaw the textile side of the business.
In 1915, while serving as a conscript in the 1st World War, Virgilio was seriously wounded and recovered over several months at Rome’s military hospital. While there he became familiar with the city and its trade and recognised the expansion opportunities this bustling city offered. In 1917, he moved his family and business to Rome.
Several years later, Virgilio’s knowledge of liquor production was considerably advanced due to a fortuitous meeting with an Italian chemist who’d been working in Russia but had been forced to flee the Russian Revolution. In 1922, Virgilio established his business in Via dei Pastini, a street in the heart of Rome near the Pantheon.
He focused his attention on production of mistrà, an anise-based liquor popularly drunk with espresso coffee (caffè corretto). Due to the success of the mistrà, production was expanded, and the company renamed “I.L.A.R. (Industrie Liquori Antrodoco Roma) Distillerie di V. di N. Pallini” and then simply Società Virgilio Pallini.
In 1933, Virgilio’s sons: Nicola Jr and Giorgio joined the family business and with their help Virglio consolidated his position in Rome and grew business in the surrounding regions to establish Pallini as Italy’s leading producer of anise flavoured liqueurs.
In 1962, after Virglio Pallini’s death, the company moved from downtown Rome to its present location, a larger more modern facility in Via Tiburtina, a light industrial area just off the peripheral road that divides the metropolitan Rome from its suburbs. The move also came about at the time when the company started exporting to the United States, particularly Romana Sambuca, a brand Virgilio Pallini created in the mid 192os.
The 1960s, also saw Pallini takeover the production of Baliva Ferro China, an amaro with perceived health benefits. The owner, Dr Baliva had some disagreements with the Pompili family, the previous producers and this proved a great opportunity for Pallini. Pallini still produce Baliva Ferro China to this day having purchased the brand from the Baliva family in 2015.
Virgilio Pallini Jr (current President and father of Micaela Pallini, the company’s present CEO) moved to New York where he worked as a television journalist and newscaster. Recognising the opportunity to build the family’s Romana Sambuca brand in America, in 1973 he joined the family business and took over responsibility of exports, quickly achieving sales of 600,000 cases per year for Romana Sambuca.
Romana Sambuca was the first Sambuca to be exported to the USA and it joined Disaronno, Frangelico and Galliano as being pretty much the only Italian liqueurs available there. Romana quickly became the world’s leading brand of sambuca and this resulted in its sale to Diageo in 1987. However, Pallini continues as the brand’s exclusive producer and Romana remains the No.1 Sambuca in the USA.
Due to interest expressed by Skyy Spirits, a large American distribution company, in 1999 Pallini produced a limoncello for export to the USA and this is the Pallini Limoncello we recognise today. Its success is due to combining elegant packaging with a very old and traditional family recipe created by Mrs Casella, wife of Giorgio Pallini.
In 2001, the family business welcomed another generation, the fifth, when Micaela Pallini, daughter of Virgilio Pallini Jr, joined the company. During her studies for a PhD in chemistry at the Tor Vergata University of Rome she worked in the family business, introducing more scientific techniques. Micaela is now the CEO and the company continues to benefit from her scientific background, particularly in quality control and research and development.
To celebrate 135 years of its business, in 2010 Pallini launched Sambuca 313, a new sambuca which enhances classic sambuca with distillates of anise and notes of elderberry, cinnamon and cardamom. Packaged in a unique silk-screened bottle, 313 is named after the year Emperor Constantino converted the Pantheon from a pagan to a Christian temple, and also due to its being the distance from the previous Pallini distillery in the centre of Rome, via dei Pastini 101, to the Pantheon.
Whereas there were 17 distilleries after World War II, Pallini is now the only liquor producer in Rome. Pallini remains a family owned business run by its fifth and sixth generations and exporting products, led by Pallini Limoncello to over 35 countries.