Nocino with Umami in Washington

By Korakot Suriya-arporn | Megan Swann


Korakot Suriya-arporn
Megan Swann
Distiller David O'Neal of Sidetrack Distillery in Seattle and his Nocino
Distiller David O'Neal of Sidetrack Distillery in Seattle and his Nocino

After the initial sip, it can take a minute to wrap your head (and taste buds) around Sidetrack Distillery's Nocino, as it slowly curls its warm nutty arms around you. The liqueur begins its journey to complexity during the sunny, dry Seattle-area summer when distiller David O'Neal plucks green walnuts and rests them (husk, shell, nut and all) in a neutral brandy until they're ready to emerge in winter. The resulting small-batch dark spirit comes in at 70 proof and has the usual shades of coffee, chocolate, and gingersnap. As it rolls around in your mouth, a wild savory-ness takes hold, revealing notes of soy, miso, and even bonito flake. 

Sidetrack is in Kent on a six-acre farm where O'Neal harvests fruits and nuts to make liqueurs, brandies, and specialty spirits with his aunt and uncle, Linda and Larry Person, the distillery's owners. “[Our nocino] mixes really well with whiskey, and it makes a nice addition to cream and coffee cocktails. Some bars have also used it as a substitute for bitters,” says O'Neal. “Many families in Italy have their own secret recipes and they can vary greatly. Some are darker and heavier on the spices while others are lighter and more citrus-y.” Sidetrack Nocino, which sells for $25 per 375-milliliter-bottle, is spiced mainly with cinnamon and clove and is less sticky-sweet than the traditional Italian variety. It's currently available in the Pacific Northwest and in Massachusetts, as well as in some international locales. 

As well as adding some warmth and complexity to seasonal cocktails, and its use as a digestif, in these winter months Sidetrack nocino makes you want to barricade yourself in with piles of salty meats and cheeses, gather round the fire, and sip and bite 'til spring, when green walnuts begin to bud again.  

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