If you’re familiar with nocino, you probably have an Italian grandmother. Or, possibly, you’ve traveled extensively throughout Italy. Or, most likely, you’re are a total spirits geek. If you’re not familiar with nocino, you should be, because it’s one of the most useful bottles of booze a home bartender can own.
Pronounced no-CHEE-no, this unappreciated gem is a liqueur made by soaking unripened, green walnuts in neutral spirits. Traditionally produced in Northern Italy where it’s made in homes (similar to the tradition of limoncello in Southern Italy), nocino is made in the summer when walnut trees first bear their fruit, and left to infuse from early June until the fall or winter. The spirit is sweetened with sugar or a homemade syrup, and then steeped with aromatic spices to give it more heft and a spicy backbone.
Inky black in color, nocino has an undeniable presence of walnuts—but it’s far from a onenote spirit. It smells like fresh baked gingerbread cookies, figs, leather and oak. After one sip you’ll understand why this liqueur is unlike anything that you have tasted before.