Someone had to do it, and it might as well have been Chazz Palminteri.
The writer-actor-director, known for his one-man show and subsequent film adaptation of “A Bronx Tale,” has gone where no Sicilian distiller has gone before.
“My [business partner] Rich DeCicco said to me, ‘You know there’s never really been an Italian/Sicilian vodka made in Sicily,’” Mr. Palminteri, 63, told The Washington Times of his entry into the vodka business with his new signature brand, BiVi.
Mr. DeCicco told Mr. Palminteri of Sicilian master distiller Giovanni La Fauci, who shared the same passion for the project. According to some sources, Mr. La Fauci began distilling at the tender age of 11.
“This is the first. There’s never been” a Sicilian-style vodka before, Mr. Palminteri said of BiVi, which loosely translates from the Sicilian-Italian dialect as “drink!”
Mr. Palminteri, a longtime aficionado of the potato-distilled drink from Eastern Europe, was anxious to find a recipe that took New World chemistry and mixed it with the Old World sensibilities of his ancestry. Mr. La Fauci experimented with various semblances of Semolina wheat combined with the “clear Sicilian waters” that have begat crops for generations of islanders. Over the course of research and development, Mr. Palminteri tried a great many of Mr. La Fauci’s elixirs and enlisted the talented taste buds of many of his New York pals.
“I had 20 of the top vodka drinkers that I knew in New York. Every time he sent me a batch, I let them taste it, and they all gave me their notes,” Mr. Palminteri said of his beta sampling.
Mr. Palminteri said Mr. La Fauci was extremely precise in his work, only distilling “when the moon was a certain way.” The trials and errors took about 18 months in Messina, Sicily, before Mr. Palminteri settled on a specific concoction bred from his ancestral lands.
(Mr. Palminteri’s given name is Calogero. It was shortened by his street-mates to “C,” and he said his childhood chums would often hail him as “the Chazz man.” Calogero also happens to be the name of the young protagonist of “A Bronx Tale,” whose father is named Lorenzo — which was also the name of Mr. Palminteri’s own father.)
“If you’ve ever eaten the food in Sicily, there’s something about the soil there; there’s something about the climate,” Mr. Palminteri said of the island just to the southwest of the Italian mainland, from where his forebears came to America. The winning batch from Mr. La Fauci, he said, “was absolutely perfect. I said, ‘Great, this is the one. I’ll put my name on it.’”
BiVi is pronounced “bee vee,” a permutation of the mainland Italian word “beve,” Mr. Palminteri said. Sicilians, he said, are often heard to cry “bivi, bivi!” before enjoying a glass of wine — or, now, vodka.
On the BiVi label, just above Mr. Palminteri’s embossed signature, are two green olives speared together by a toothpick. When asked about its significance, a quickening came into Mr. Palminteri’s voice as he recalled his friendship with one of the 20th century’s greatest icons.
“I was with Frank Sinatra one time,” Mr. Palminteri said of once finding himself outside of a party with the Chairman of the Board. “I was telling him what his music meant [to me]. I was just so enamored by the man.”
Upon finishing up his drink, Sinatra removed the two olives on a toothpick from his own martini glass.
“He said to me, ‘Hey, Chazz, you want to share my martini? You want to share my olive?’”
The legendary singer handed one olive to the actor and ate the other. Sinatra then hugged Mr. Palminteri, said “I love you,” and walked back into the party. Following the icon into the event, Mr. Palminteri was met with stunned expressions.
“I hear a voice behind me go, ‘Frank shared an olive with you?’” Mr. Palminteri recalled. “I turn around, and it’s Gregory Peck. He said, ‘That was a Rat Pack tradition, Chazz. They would share their olives with each other as a sign of great friendship.’
“So I [thought], what a great thing to do with BiVi: ‘Have a BiVi moment.’”
BiVi is four times distilled and 10 times filtered, offering a smooth taste and fine finish on the palate. The vodka is being distributed by Iconic Brands at various locations around the country. Mr. Palminteri says that it is also the key ingredient in many of the cocktails served at his new restaurant in New York, Chazz Palminteri Ristorante Italiano.
One of them, naturally, is called the Bronx CockTale.
Mr. Palminteri is still writing and acting. His new film, “Legend,” opens this month, and he will return to his role on “Modern Family” this season as well.
“A lot of good things are happening, but I’m really excited about my BiVi vodka,” he said. “And I think when people taste it, they go ‘My God, this is incredible!’ The proof of the pudding is in the taste, really.”