Making the bittersweet walnut liqueur known as nocino has suddenly become popular in Philly. Cadence, the BYOB, has been steeping its own from local black walnuts as a complimentary goodnight pour for its customers. Fred Cratil Jr. has been making an Abruzzese version for his impressive series of house digestivi at Le Virtù. Now you can buy a locally made version of this favorite European sipper to take home from Lansdale’s Boardroom Spirits, which has produced a limited amount just in time for the holidays.
Boardroom’s version is inspired by the recipe from co-owner Zsuzsa Palotas' Hungarian family (Hungary loves bitter herbal liqueurs, such as its national drink, Unicum). And the first annual release of this seasonal offering was a year and a half in the making. Palotas' husband and partner, Marat Mamedov, says green walnuts from California are steeped in grape brandy for eight months (as opposed to a shorter period in the usual high-octane grain alcohol) along with the Christmas spices of cinnamon, allspice, and clove before its proof is lowered to a reasonable 40 percent alcohol with local clover honey. Along with simple syrup and natural color from walnut husks, the honey helps sweeten the syrupy dark brew just enough before it’s mellowed another half-year in the bottle. True to Boardroom’s all-natural ways with its other brandies and infused spirits, its nocino isn’t as sweet as some more industrial products. Amari people will love it as a post-meal digestif. But the flavors of that edgy green nut -- at once vegetal and sweet -- really comes through on every sip, which, Mamedov suggests, truly opens up when poured over an ice cube.
— Craig LaBan