Photo by Chris Casella

Say Yes to Nocino

Did anyone out there notice the dude driving around Grandview on November 19 with his window down in 30-degree weather, blasting “Chasing Heather Crazy” by Guided By Voices, and fist-pumping the air outside the window?

Well that was me, about 10 minutes after being allowed to leave the Stock & Barrel office to go visit Watershed Distillery. Any time you get paid (ha ha, suckers) to leave an office and go to a distillery is cause for celebration, but when the reason for the trip is a new product from Watershed, it’s clearly time to roll that window down and listen to some rock‘n’roll. It almost got too rock‘n’roll when I arrived to find no one manning the bottle shop up front, and briefly considered pillaging a case or two and riding off into the sunset—but I decided not to push my luck. I walked back into the newly expanded production space and found the reason for the unguarded spirits up front: all hands, including owners Greg Lehman and Dave Rigo, were on deck, labeling and packaging bottles in preparation for the upcoming release of Watershed Nocino, a liqueur made from unripe Ohio black walnuts.

Nocino is Watershed’s first foray into the world of liqueurs, and Ohio’s only foray into the traditional Italian spirit. Due to its limited availability and virtually nonexistent production here in the U.S., Nocino is new to most Americans, and it’s a surprising move for Watershed’s first liqueur. While you may not be familiar with the name, this dark nutty liqueur is full of flavors that feel right at home in the winter. It packs a big clove and cinnamon punch, with notes of lemon and vanilla, and a pleasant molasses sweetness. Lehman and Rigo say they were inspired to create the new product after sampling a homemade nocino over vanilla ice cream, and while I believe this to be an entirely pleasant experience, I still hadn’t warmed up from my windows-down driving party, and ice cream wasn’t a priority.

Cocktails on the other hand? Always a priority.

Nocino is a welcome addition to a number of cocktails, and with so much flavor packed into a 375-milliliter bottle, a little bit of this stuff goes a long way. Just a dash can do wonders in egg nog, an Old Fashioned, a Boulevardier, or even a rum punch. It has a natural affinity for aged spirits, such as bourbon and rye, and a quarter-ounce added to a Manhattan is a great place to start. As an added bonus, the fact that this walnut liqueur is traditionally Italian gives me the perfect excuse to name a drink after a Sopranos character, so pick up a bottle and mix yourself a Paulie Walnuts Manhattan:

Paulie Walnuts Manhattan

2 oz. Watershed Bourbon

3/4 oz. Cocchi Vermouth di Torino

1/4 oz. Watershed Nocino

1 dash Angostura bitters

Stir with ice and strain into a chilled coupe.
Garnish with an orange peel.