Update: Black Walnut Liqueur (Nocino)

It’s been about 4 months now and high time to sample the Black Walnut Liqueur we started back in July. Was the outcome worth the effort? I would answer with an unqualified “yes”!

After infusing for the requisite period, the brew was very dark, murky, and mysterious. It smelled fragrant and unusual: not particularly reminiscent of walnut, with slightly herbal topnotes. The real test, though, was the sampling.

The recipe I followed included instructions to sweeten the finished infusion with a sugar syrup, then aging for another 3 months. As with my wines, I elected to skip the backsweetening step and sweeten at the time of pouring, to taste; I’m a fan of this approach because it offers greater flexibility in pleasing different palates.

Aging is important with this liqueur – I found that even a month made a significant flavor difference. A month earlier, there were some residual harsh notes, mostly bitter. With additional time, those notes smoothed out and the overall complexity of the liqueur increased; rather than prominent bitter notes, they faded into the background, allowing herbal, spicy, and nutty flavors to come forward.

With another few months, this liqueur may be ready to drink with just some sweetening, but for now, mixing with heavy cream creates a delightful adult cocktail. Batch #1 really showcased the walnut flavors with subtle spice; batch #2 reminded me of Fernet Branca – very complex spice flavors melded to create something that wasn’t immediately identifiable as cinnamon, anise, or clove, with subtler nuttiness and stronger bitterness.

Would I make this liqueur again? Most definitely! Though it requires some patience (and the willingness to live with stained hands for a while after cutting up the walnuts), the finished liqueur is tasty and unique, and it’s especially rewarding to have been able to collect the nuts from the wild trees that grow on our own land. One change that I would make, though, is to begin collecting the green walnuts earlier in the year to make the cutting process easier – late June is probably about the optimal time to begin harvesting.

Verdict: wildcrafted black walnut liqueur is a winner. This very special drink will warm the cockles on cold evenings!

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