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Nocino: The Italian Liqueur You Need For A Better Sour Cocktail

glass of nocino on table next to green walnuts
glass of nocino on table next to green walnuts - Constantin Cocirta/Shutterstock

Nocino might just be the most delicious booze you've never heard of. Sweet, nutty, woodsy, and surprisingly versatile, this slightly bitter Italian liqueur made from underripe, green walnuts boasts a centuries-long history in its native country. Though popular for both medicinal and recreational uses in its homeland, nocino is lesser-known outside of the Italian population. This is a shame, as the unexpected and delicious complexity it adds to drinks is undeniable — and it just might be the exact ingredient you need to take your sour cocktails to the next level.

Nocino is often used in Christmasy cocktails made with brown spirits, or it can be sipped straight. In sour cocktails, though, its unique attributes really shine. Sour drinks are characterized by tangy ingredients, such as lemon juice, balanced out by sugar. Nocino's nutty and bittersweet flavor provides an even richer counterpoint to that signature tartness. It plays up the warmth of cognac and brandy, which are commonly featured in sours, and can balance out vermouth and other fortified wines, which are sometimes used in lieu of a brown spirit.

For example, try a nocino-based Manhattan with a wedge of lemon. The walnut liqueur's richness complements the smooth bourbon, tart lemon, and sweet simple syrup, delivering a nightcap with a pleasantly robust flavor. Try some nocino in a few simple drinks, and tracking down a big bottle for your bar cart will become an urgent mission.

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Tips For Making Nocino-Based Sours

Green walnuts, cinnamon, lemon peel in jar
Green walnuts, cinnamon, lemon peel in jar - Sabino Parente/Shutterstock

A basic sour drink made with nocino couldn't be easier. Simply combine an ounce of nocino with 1½ ounces of cognac, some lemon juice, and simple syrup. If you'd like, add a dash of Angostura bitters for a hint of spiced, herbal flavor. Shake and pour over ice, and you've got a full-bodied, earthy drink with a bold, nutty twist. Feel free to swap in bourbon or vermouth for cognac, or add some amaretto. You can even shake the drink with egg whites for a foamy head.

Nocino can also turn a sidecar, one of the most popular sour cocktails, into a spiffy Italian sidecar. Just shake ¾ ounce of nocino with some brandy, Cointreau, and lemon juice for a nutty twist on the classic. If the tropical essence of a Mai Tai is more your speed, try some nocino in place of orgeat — the almond syrup typically featured in this drink — to add a more robust, bittersweet flavor.

Both domestic and imported nocino are available for purchase at many liquor retailers, but if you're feeling creative, you can make your own. Simply cut green walnuts into quarters — being sure to wear gloves, as the walnuts stain heavily — and place them in a container with some sugar, lemon zest, your choice of spices (cinnamon, vanilla, or even cloves), and about 1 liter of vodka. Let it sit for six weeks, shaking daily, then strain it into a bottle and you're good to go.

Other Delicious Drink Pairings For Nocino

Mulled cider, apples, cinnamon sticks
Mulled cider, apples, cinnamon sticks - nblx/Shutterstock

When you prefer a deep and rich drink over a more refreshing sour, nocino's nutty flavor is fantastic for warming and comforting sippers. If you're looking for a pick-me-up during the holiday season, you can add ¼ cup of nocino and 2 tablespoons of whiskey or bourbon to hot apple cider for a unique twist on a mulled cider recipe. Pair your cider with a few wedges of blue cheese — gorgonzola, perhaps, which pairs well with the taste of nocino — or even cheddar, for a salty contrast to the sweetness in the drink.

If you prefer the flavor of cherry to apple, go ahead and add 4 ounces of nocino to a cup of oat milk and 2 tablespoons of liquid from preserved cherries for a cocktail with an egg nog feel. And if you want a fun way to kick up your morning or after-dinner espresso, you can mix a shot of espresso with about 1½ ounces of nocino, and sweeten with sugar to your liking. Feel free to pair this beverage with a chocolatey or coffee-based dessert, like chocolate cake or tiramisu, which will bring out the rich, nutty flavors in the drink and end your night on a high note.

Read the original article on Daily Meal.