Review: Skip Rock Distillers Nocino Walnut Liqueur
Skip Rock Nocino Walnut Liqueur is distilled by Skip Rock Distillers and bottled at 33% ABV
Price Range:$50-$60 (for 750ml)
Skip Rock Distillers was founded in 2009 by Ryan and Julie Hembree in Snohomish, Washington. In addition to their nocino they make a number of rums, whiskeys, vodkas and three other liqueurs.
In 2014 when I began the process of making my own nocino, I mentioned it to Ryan in an email. While I picked my unripe English Walnuts from Bill Owen's tree on June 24th, the Feast day of St. John the Baptist (the traditional Italian harvest day for making nocino) in California, Ryan's walnuts weren't ready to harvest until mid July, due I assume to the higher latitude of Snohomish. Most of the unripe walnuts that go into Skip Rock's nocino are grown less than five miles from the distillery and some of them are grown right on Ryan's property.
Once the walnuts are harvested, Ryan crushes them with a hammer mill and puts them in a 300 gallon tank to macerated in a high proof distillate they make just for the nocino. After a couple of months they drain off the infused walnut spirit and begin the process of adding spices and cane sugar which over the next couple of months becomes nocino. Once the all of the spices and sugar has been added, Ryan begins the process of slowly adding purified water to bring the liqueur down to bottling proof.
Now fresh nocino is very bitter despite the added sugar and spices because of all the tannins that get extracted from the green walnuts. However, over time those tannins breakdown and soften. While most traditional nocino recipes say to let it rest for a year after making it so that it has time to mellow. Ryan has gone a step beyond. The most recent bottling of the Skip Rock Nocino has been resting for two whole years while Ryan brought the proof down. In that time, all of the bitterness has dissipated and the flavors from walnuts and spices have melded together into an incredible harmony.
Nose: The nose is beautiful and fragrant, full of lemon and vanilla with an underlying aromas of nutmeg, toffee and cola. There is just a slight hint of alcohol but just enough to carry the aroma upward.
Palate: Initially the taste is sweet but not over powering or cloying in any way. The nocino sits coolly on the tip of the tongue with a very pleasant acidity. As you begin to swallow and the nocino moves through your mouth the spirit awakes and becomes warm on the palate with notes of clove and nutmeg. Immediately after swallowing the flavor changes to chocolate.
Finish: The finish lingers and is like semi-sweet chocolate, lightly sweet and slightly dry at the same time. The nocino made my mouth water which is a good sign for liqueur traditionally drunk to aid digestion after a meal.
Conclusion: Ryan's nocino can be drunk neat as an after a meal and it works nicely as a substitute for sweet vermouth in cocktails. A Midnight Manhattan with Evan Williams, Ryan's nocino and a dash of Aged Citrus Bitters from 5 by 5 Tonics Co. makes a really great drink that is perfect for the cold winter nights. I also used the nocino in a Negroni Umbria, made from equal parts nocino, gin and Campari with an orange twist. The nocino and Campari work really well together and the drink taste vaguely like one of those chocolate oranges you see around Christmas time.
While the $55 price tag may seem steep for a liqueur, I don't know of any American Craft Liqueur that lets their product rest for two years before bottling! Which makes this latest bottling of Skip Rock Distillers Nocino a gem and an incredible treat. And, if you'd like to pick up your own bottle you can find it in liquor stores through out Washington state or you can buy it directly through their online store.