Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Mixology Monday LXXXV Nuts - In Which Jupiter Features Prominently

I received another reminder of just how rapidly my life is speeding away from me, as apparently somehow it is again time for another Mixology Monday.*  This month is hosted at the distressingly well-photographed http://stirandstrain.com/, with the theme of nuts.
Nuts? Yes! A few months back I tried, and was wowed by, a peanut-y take on an Old Fashioned at a bar here in L.A. They had infused peanuts in bourbon and with a touch of honey had made magic. Nuts of all sorts make it into cocktails now. Some black walnut bitters here, the sweet almond flavor of orgeat there… circus peanuts. Your challenge is to utilize nuts (and since we’re NOT adhering to the strict rules of what are nuts, peanuts and walnuts both count) in any way you see fit to create a cocktail. Infusions, bitters, almond tinctures are all game. Amaretto, homemade nocino, Frangelico too. Go nuts!
I was aware that peanuts are in fact not nuts, having heard people tediously repeat that they are legumes for my entire life, but transmuting that fact into knowledge requires adopting a more complicated and nuanced world view than I feel I really require. The idea that walnuts are not nuts either is almost too much to bear. Verily, is there any logic to the world if the nuts of Jupiter, King of the Gods and Lord of Thunder, can't lay claim to the title?  

Jupiter chillin on a Cloud with some nymph
Walnuts, Juglans regia (lit. Jovis glans or 'Jupiter's Nuts'), have an array of uses, few of which are suggestive of a gastronomic delight. Did you know the fruit can be used for hair dye, the bark used for 'healing indolent ulcers', the nut meat for furniture polish, and according to good ol' Culpepper the leaves if "taken with onions, salt, and honey, they help with the biting of a mad dog"? That was a very long sentence and I have significant doubts whether it was properly claused and punctuated.

Additionally, if the unripe, green walnuts are chopped and soaked in alcohol for a while they will yield a surprisingly normal tasting digestif liqueur called Nocino (or possible Vin de Noix or maybe Orohovac). Slightly bitter with a warming baking spice (cinnamon, powdered ginger, clove, brown sugar) flavor, it makes an excellent post dinner drink or a more-versatile-than-anticipated cocktail ingredient.

According to tradition, in Italy the walnuts are picked the night of June 23rd for the Feast of John the Baptist. A website which Google very poorly translated for me claims that in addition to nut gathering-
People started from all the districts of Rome , by the light of torches and lanterns, and concentrated in St. John Lateran to pray to the saint and eat snails in the inns and cabins specially prepared for the party. The snails were a customary dish , because the tradition was " a lot of snails , so many horns for witches ."

In Portland, the walnuts seem to be ready around then too or maybe a little farther into June. If you aren't able to find green walnuts, just drink one of the several thousands other liqueurs that are available in your local liquor store. The internet is teeming with recipes and there is a lot of latitude for process and ingredients. Basically you want to chop up around 25-31 nuts per liter, soak them in alcohol for about 2-3 months maybe with a bit of clove, lemon zest, cinnamon or vanilla, then strain, add cold simple syrup to taste, rest 3 months, then strain again and bottle. At the distillery, we make Nocino with a mixture of unaged Rye Whiskey and aged Pinot Noir Brandy because we fancy. At home, I make it with rum because there are many cheap delicious rums. The internet tells you vodka, but the internet is composed of the same people you see when you are out in the world at the post office or grocery store and so I don't tend to put too much stock in their advice.

This particular batch was made by Margarett, so the recipe details are unknown but in general it follows the above guide lines. It tastes best after sitting in bottle for at least a year. What to do with it? How about a Manhattan? That seems easy and doesn't require me to get the citrus juicer dirty.

While some might shrivel at using a $50/half bottle of whiskey in a cocktail, I would suggest that those people need a remedial class in Ballin' (Ballin' 101 - How to Silence Your Inner Critic). More practically, my degree in accounting tells me that using $6 worth of whiskey at home is still cheaper than spending $12 for a drink in a bar, with the almost priceless bonus of being able to drink it in the bathtub. Also, the bottle was free...
house spirits westward whiskey nocino manhattan walnuts

Not Effective As Hair Dye
1.5 oz Whiskey (I used Westward Whiskey, a bourbon would suffice)
3/4 oz Nocino
Dash Regan's Orange Bitters

Mix over ice and stir for 30 seconds. Strain and the spend the rest of the evening struggling for a name that isn't a groan-inducing 'nut' pun. 

*Some might assert that it is actually Tuesday and not Monday, but they are operating under the fallacy of linear time.