EZdrinking

Searching for the world's best drinks and what makes them extraordinary.

Searching for the world's best drinks and what makes them extraordinary. EZdrinking is a drinks blog by Eric Zandona that focuses on distilled spirits, wine, craft beer and specialty coffee. Here you can find reviews of drinks, drink books, articles about current & historical trends, as well as how to make liqueurs, bitters, and other spirit based drinks at home.

Filtering by Tag: Liqueur

How to Make Homemade Nocino Part 3

While making my own nocino has not been a difficult process it does take quite a bit of time to rest and mellow. In part 1 I described the process of extracting the walnut flavors and creating the base liqueur. In part 2 I created a variety of spice mixes and decanted the fledgling nocino into nine glass jars.

  1. Clove, Cinnamon
  2. Cinnamon, Star Anise
  3. Cinnamon, Clove, Star Anise, Vanilla
  4. Star Anise, Vanilla
  5. Lemon, Cinnamon, Clove
  6. Lemon, Cinnamon, Star Anise
  7. Lemon, Cinnamon, Clove, Star Anise, Vanilla
  8. Lemon, Star Anise, Vanilla
  9. No added spices.

Most recipes I've seen suggest that after the spices have been added, to let the nocino rest for up to a year. So almost exactly one year later I decanted and filtered each jar using a V60 coffee setup. For some silly reason I shook the first jar which stirred up a bunch of fine sediment and took forever to filter. With each successive jar I was careful not disturb the sediment which made the filtering step so much quicker. As I filtered each jar of nocino I cleaned the jars so that I could reuse them. 

At the time I was doing this my wife and I had a 1 year old boy and I didn't have a lot of time to spend with the nocino so after each jar was filtered I put the contents back into its now clean jar and sealed it back up. My intent was revisit them the next week and see which spice mix I liked best. However, time has a way of slipping away from you when you have a baby so I didn't come back to retaste the nocino until more than a year after I filtered them.

Tasting through each jar was very informative and a little disappointing. Except for the nocino that didn't have any spices added to it, none were good enough on their own to keep separate. In each one, the intensity of the spices was out of balance with the walnuts, sugar and alcohol. But, rather than throw them out I decided to blend some of them together and see if I could make the sum of the parts better than the whole. However, even after blending some of the jars together the results were less than stellar because I left the added spices to macerate for way too long.  At this point the only hope I have of saving the nocio is by adding some mint to it and trying to transform it into a fernet which might work better with its current intensity of the spices. 

Conclusions:

When I tasted the different jars of nocino there were a few things that were immediately obvious.

  1. The nut flavor and mouthfeel of the nocino made by desiccating the green walnuts with raw sugar before I added the alcohol was by far superior to macerating the green walnuts with alcohol and simple syrup.
  2. Macerating the lemon with the green walnuts, alcohol and simple syrup was way to long and it left a not so pleasant and bitter  lemon flavor from the zest.
  3. Even though I tried to put small quantities of spices in each jar, I included way too much. while there are some that I like more than others, in the future I will need to use less spices per unit volume and it would probably be best.
  4. Macerating the spices for 12 months is too long. The nocino does need to rest for 12 months but it would be better to taste the nocino in week long intervals to see how the extraction progresses.
  5. Time is your friend when making amazing nocino. When I tasted the 2 year old jar of nocino that I had filled without spices it was fantastic. After a year the tannins were still pretty strong, but after two years it has a good balance between bitter and sweet. It had a very nice, nose of light coco powder, and cedar...

In the end this was a fantastic project and even though I wasn't supper excited by any of the spices versions, I learned some excellent lessons that will make my next batch of nocino even better. 

Read Part 1                              Read Part 2

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. 

Tasting Notes

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.

What I Learned from the California Rum Festival

Image from TheRumLab.com

The other weekend I attended the 2nd Annual California Rum Festival hosted at the SOMArts Center in San Francisco. I found out about this event last year just after its inaugural festival came to a close. Now I really like rum and rum cocktails so I made sure to sign up for their newsletter because I didn't want to miss it again.

When the day of the event arrived I was excited to check out a couple of the breakout sessions though overall, I didn't know what to expect from the event. While the first speaker was setting up I decided to walk the floor and create a game plan for tasting. The event was hosted in a long open gallery space and as I walked the hall there were a couple of rum brands that I recognized but many of them I hadn't heard of. Going into the festival I knew that I generally like Jamaican rums (I'm a big fans of Appleton and Rum Fire) and that I'm not a fan of overly sweet rums. 

After scoping out the floor, I popped into a great seminar lead Forrest Cokley on Panamanian Rums.  Forrest presented Ron Abuelo 7 Year Old Rum, Panama-Pacific 9 Year Old Rum, and Ron Durán 12 Year Old Rum. Each of them were made on column stills and aged in ex-whiskey barrels and both Ron Abuelo and Ron Duran had some amount of sugar added post distillation so they were a little sweeter and a little easier on the palate. All three were nice rums  and while my favorite of the three was Ron Abuelo, I wasn't super excited by any of therm. However, I think they would really appeal to people who love Ron Zacapa or Flor de Cana.

After the session I returned to the floor and began tasting a lot of rums. I tried rums from Puerto Rico, Panama, Antigua, Jamaica, Guyana, Kauai, South Carolina and even the Philippines. And as I tasted them, I began to discern a pattern of what rums spoke to me. I noticed that I like rums that taste like rum. Not rum that tastes like oak, or rum trying to be whiskey, or rum so adulterated that it tastes more like vanilla extract. I got excited for unaged or lightly aged rums, high ester rums, rum made on pot stills and rum agricole. Now this doesn't mean I don't like any sweetness, oak, or spice in rum but rather that I those flavors in proportion so that the base distillate can show its character. Here were my favorites...

The Rum Society No. 40: The Rum Society is a company that buys single origin pot distilled rum and blends them together. No. 40 is an unaged rum distilled in Guyana on a wooden pot still. This rum comes from the same distillery that produces El Dorado. The rum is chalk full of beautiful fruity and floral esters and it is incredibly smooth. Drinking this rum was an ecstatic revelation.

Rhum JM Agricole Blanc 50%: Rhum JM is a historic producer of rum agricole, i.e. rum made from fresh pressed sugar cane, on the French island of Martinique. Like other rum agricole, the blanc has a wonderful bouquet of grassy and floral notes. And even at 50%ABV it wasn't overly hot or harsh.

Rhum JM VO: This rum takes the raw distillate from above and matures it in new American oak barrels and re-charred bourbon barrels. This short stint wood adds a layer of complexity however, the base rum still shines through. In my opinion the V.O. demonstrates how rum can be complemented by its time in oak without being overpowered.

Damoiseau Pure Cane Rum 110 Proof: Damoiseau is another rum agricole however, this one is distilled on the French island of Guadalupe. The rum has a wonderful earthy character complemented by an array tropical fruit notes. And at 110 proof this unaged rum is designed for cocktails.

Pusser's Rum Gunpowder Proof: Pusser's is a blend of five rums from Guyana and Trinidad aged for a minimum of 3 years. This blend was used for over 300 years by the British Royal Navy as a daily ration to its sailors. The original blend was stored at 54.5% ABV which saved space and was strong enough that gunpowder soaked in the rum would still ignite. Pusser's is a very rich and dense rum with lots of molasses, honey, and spice. For my taste the Gunpowder proof was the sweet spot. The lower proof Blue Label (42%) did not have the same intensity of flavor, and the overproof  (75%) was super hot and clearly meant to be used sparingly in cocktails.

Koloa Rum Company Kaua'i Coffee Liqueur: This Liqueur is made through a collaboration between the Kauai Coffee Company and Koloa Rum Company. Koloa takes their white rum which is twice distilled from raw sugar up to 90% ABV before being  proofed down.  A brewed coffee of Kauai grown aribica and robusto beans is added to the rum with a little sugar and vanilla. The combined flavors of rum and coffee is a fantastic combo and the vanilla, molasses, and dark chocolate flavors make this a tasty after dinner treat.

Conclusion

If you have a chance to attend an event like this I highly recommend it. When only one spirit is served, whether it is rum, gin, or whiskey, I think it presents a great opportunity to discover new brands and better understand your own personal preferences.

Review: The Artisan's Guide to Crafting Distilled Spirits

Bettina Malle and Helge Schmickl, Translated by Paul Lehmann, The Artisan's Guide to Crafting Distilled Spirits: Small-Scale Production of Brandies, Schnapps & Liquors, (Austin: Spikehorn Press, 2015), 200 pages, $29.95.

The authors of The Artisan’s Guide to Crafting Distilled Spirits, Bettina Malle and Helge Schmickl, both have doctorates in technical sciences and chemical engineering. In 1998, they designed their first still and began teaching workshops on distilling in Austria. In 2003, they published a book, based on their experiments in distilling a variety of fruit brandies and infusing liquors, called Schnaps brennen als Hobby. Since then, they have also written two books about making essential oils and vinegar.

The Artisan’s Guide to Crafting Distilled Spirits is an introductory work on distilling, primarily written for non-professional distillers. In the German-speaking countries of Europe, home distilling is permissible with certain licenses and under certain circumstances. Because of this, Malle and Schmickl’s description of distilling, its history and practice are very basic and not well-suited to professionals or even would-be professionals.

The book does not engage deeply with traditional distillation practices, and in some cases the authors make unorthodox claims regarding production techniques that, despite their technical backgrounds, they do not go on to substantiate with science. For this reason the book largely comes across as a reaction to bad home-distilling practices. If Malle and Schmickl had used their expertise to explain why certain traditional techniques work, or made a better case for why their methods produced superior spirits, perhaps all distillers could have benefited.

Ultimately, The Artisan’s Guide to Crafting Distilled Spirits does not fully acknowledge that the best distilled spirits are the result of both artistry and chemistry. The goal of the book is to help its readers make better spirits and to understand some of the chemical processes involved, but at 200 pages, the book is too short to be a thorough technical description of how to craft excellent spirits. Because Malle and Schmickl ignore many of the tried-and-true techniques of traditional distillation and seem to believe that making excellent spirits is instead a matter of following a recipe, Crafting Distilled Spirits is not recommended reading for the professional.

Review: G.E. Massenez Lequeur de Poir Williams

G.E. Massenez Lequeur de Poir Williams, distilled by Distillery Massenez and bottled at 25% ABV. 

Price Range: $35-$55

Established in the 1870s by Jean-Baptiste Massenez, this family run distillery focused on making high quality French eau da vies from Alsace. After WWII Gabriel Eugene Massenez grew the business in France and internationally . In 2010, Grandes Distilleries Peureux bought a majority stake in Massenez.

The G.E Massenze Williams pear liqueur is created by combining williams pear eau da vie (unaged brandy) with sweetened pear juice.

TASTING NOTES

Nose: The aroma is incredibly powerful, full of ripe pear aromas from both the skin and the flesh. As it sits in the glass the notes of caramel and grape lollipop are carried up to the nose on waves of ethanol.

Palate: The liqueur is intensely sweet like a pear flavored jolly rancher coating the tongue. The liqueur is very viscous and has a surprising amount of heat for only being 50 proof. Unfortunately the aromas have a very artificial character to them.

Finish: The sweetness continues to linger long after swallowing and the residual flavor has a more realistic pear character with a bit of dryness from the skins. 

Conclusion: The G.E. Massenez Williams Pear Liqueur is ideal for a sweet-tooth how wants a light dessert. Pour it over vanilla ice cream and drift off into a decadent wonderland of sweet pears and cream.