This Nocino was first produced in 2014. Nocino is the traditional walnut liqueur made throughout Italy and Ticino (the Italian-speaking part of Switzerland). The base ingredients of Nocino have changed very little through the centuries. They include cut, unripe walnuts, alcohol (typically grappa or grain alcohol), sugar, and spices. It is the mix of spices that can vary widely from family-to-family and village-to-village that gives each Nocino its unique character. Dave Rigo and Greg Lehman know more about black walnuts than they ever thought they would. Thatʼs because the Watershed Distillery owners spent the summer researching and then crafting their first liqueur—a black-walnut infusion called Nocino. The two were inspired to craft this new product after an Upper Arlington physician brought them a bottle of his blackwalnut liqueur made from an old family recipe. One taste (and a bit of the doctorʼs nocino over a bowl of Jeniʼs ice cream), and the distillers knew they had to recreate it. That was the tricky part, as walnuts must be harvested while unripe and green within two weeks in June and July, Rigo says. Two farms in Marysville supplied 700 pounds of black walnuts, which the Watershed team broke open by hand. (“Itʼs like cracking a coconut open, with the milk running out,” Lehman says.) The walnuts were macerated in sugar and then aged with Watershed vodka for three months to make 2,500 bottles of limited-release Nocino (375mL bottles). The dark brown liqueur is like a cross between a bitter Italian amaro and a nutty ice wine. It has a heavy body, but itʼs not too syrupy. And itʼs sweet with hints of vanilla bean and cinnamon but wouldnʼt pass as dessert (though it would pair well with a sugary bite at the end of a meal). Nocino is a welcome addition to a number of cocktails. Just a dash can do wonders in egg nog, an Old Fashioned, a Boulevardier, or even a rum punch. It has a natural affinity for aged spirits, such as bourbon and rye, and a quarter-ounce added to a Manhattan is a great place to start. 21.7% ABV.
About the Producer
Watershed was founded by Greg Lehman and Dave Rigo in 2010, but the idea to start a distillery was conceived years earlier while Lehman was playing professional volleyball in Switzerland. Inspired by the locally produced spirits that were common in the area, Greg thought about the possibility of creating spirits in his Ohio hometown Columbus. He shared his idea with Dave and they began working on making it a reality.
Before prohibition, Ohio was home to dozens of distilleries producing unique flavors specific to the region. However, since prohibition Ohio is one of the most difficult states to start a distillery. In 2007, Greg and Dave began working on what would become the newest addition to the very long history of micro-distilling in Ohio, Watershed Distillery, famous for world-class vodka, gin, and bourbon. Working a custom made Kothe still from Germany, Greg and Dave create unique and pure spirits that have been turning heads from the Midwest to the eastern seaboard.
Both the vodka and gins are made from high quality locally grown corn (95%) and apples (5%) sourced from family operations. Everything comes in one truckload at a time and is augured into the 1200 bushel grain bin in the back of the distillery. The corn comes in cleaned and whole kernel. It is then augered into the hopper above the mill and begins to feed the mill. An 8/32 screen is used to get the corn as fine as possible before it is sent through a second auger. The corn gets pushed through the 2nd auger into a hold bin above the mash cooker. For the vodka or the gins the mash bill is the same at this point (100% corn). For the bourbon, it is a blend of mostly corn with wheat, rye and 5% spelt. After all the grain has been milled and is in the grain bin above the mash cooker, the flour is slowly fed into the mash cooker, that has approximately 700 gallons of hot water at this point. It typically takes 30 minutes or so to add all of the 2000 lbs of grain for one mash. It is done slowly so that it mixes and cooks evenly. Some alpha amylase is added along the way to help with starch conversion. After that, the mash cooks for 90 minutes at 190 degrees before the cooling process is started by pumping chilled water through the dual jacketed mash cooker. Once it is down to 140 degrees, some gluco amylase is added to continue the starch conversion. The mash keeps getting cooled until it reaches 75 degrees. Vodka or whiskey strains of yeast (depending on which is being made) is then added and the mash is pumped into one of the 1000 gallon fermenters. It ferments for anywhere from 4 to 5 days. Once fermentation is complete, the distiller’s beer is pumped into the big still.