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2013 Nocino / Vin de Noix / Green Walnut discussion

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Hey folks...

I'm once again going to make some Vin de Noix and Nocino this year, and am trying a different tack than last year.

Rather than follow one or several of some hoary old recipes, I have cut my walnuts into smaller pieces than last year, and am soaking them in Everclear (190 proof). My goal is to keep things less messy than last year, with less moving things from carboy to carboy, and more ability to do experiments.

What I plan to do is to let the walnuts macerate, shaking every so often, as usual. Then, after a few months, I will separate out this liquid extract and use it as a base for my other recipes, both Vin de Noix and Nocino. This way it'll be easier to macerate various other flavoring agents without the mess of all the soggy green walnuts.

However, one thing I wonder - the actual volume of Everclear I'm using for the initial walnut maceration is quite a bit less than if I soaked them in wine+brandy or 100 proof vodka, as I did last year. This is necessary if I desire to get the correct volume of alcohol in the recipes I eventually use (since the Everclear is so strong).

What I wonder is, will I be losing out on some of the green walnut essence and flavor because I'll be starting out with less volume of walnut-infused liquid? Should I, instead, mix wine and/or water (depending) into the carboys and continue to let them infuse at the target alcohol content? Or will I get no added benefit in walnut flavor extraction from that, and I might just as well use remove the walnuts and use the extract as is?

I've heard that an extract made with mostly alcohol can come out differently in flavor than one made with a lower proof liquor, as water extracts different flavor agents than alcohol (whether good or bad, I'm not sure - probably depends on the specific flavoring).

Any liquor makers among us who know the chemistry of these things well enough to have a good idea?

- Tim

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    1. I've made Nocino with Everclear for about 10 years now and following an old Italian recipe that macerates the quartered walnuts with the alcohol, filtering , then adding the sugar and diluting to the final volume with water. It's a little rough tasting until about 1-2 years out, and best at 5+ years in the bottle. Last year I used some of the "concentrate" for a vin de Noix that I then added whole cloves, cinnamon to and let sit for another month, then added sugar and used a Finger Lakes Cabernet Franc that a local winemaker gave me as my base wine. It was drinkable about Christmas time and is great now. This year I'm macerating the quartered walnuts in some E&J brandy along with the cloves and cinnamon since early July and it's about ready to filter and blend with the wine within the next week. I'll see how this lowered alcohol extraction method compares, but I'm betting the other brandy flavors may make it better. The high alcohol extraction is probably best for the Nocino and I think tastes better than the times I used a lower alcohol Vodka when the Everclear was unavailable. Remember, the Everclear is still 5% water and extraction of those soluble compounds still occurs, especially if the extraction time is extended (1-2 months)- that's a retired pharmacist talking.......