Bitter Branch

Bitter BranchHere’s a nice cocktail to drink while curled up next to the fireplace. It’s big and bold, salty and sweet, and a little bitter too. You could say it’s everything but sour. It comes by way of Marvel Bar’s Pip Hanson and appears in both The American Cocktail book and Northstar Cocktails. During the colder, darker months, it’s hard not to get excited about cocktails like this one. It’s also pretty easy to make for how complex it tastes, and it uses an ingredient we’ve never featured on Summit Sips until now.

The unusual ingredient is Nocino (no-CHEE-no), a dark Italian walnut flavored liqueur made from unripe green walnuts. The flavor is sweet, luscious and deeply nutty, but often still high in alcohol. We were first introduced to it a couple years back at the Bradstreet Crafthouse where it plays prominently in their Black Walnut Old Fashioned, a cocktail that uses the liqueur in place of sugar for their twist on the popular classic. One brand that is getting easier to find is Nux Alpina which comes from Austria. There’s also Toschi Vignola Nocino, or their Nocello which is made from walnuts and hazelnuts. In northern Italy, nocino is often a homemade ingredient. Green walnuts are soaked in alcohol which is later mixed with simple syrup. The high-proof liqueur turns black in the process and sometimes spices are added to enhance the flavor. We haven’t made it ourselves (our bottle will probably last a long time) but a recipe was published a while back by Imbibe Magazine. Whether you use Nux Alpina, a homemade nocino, or a nocello, they will all work equal magic in this drink.

Bitter BranchBitter Branch by Pip Hanson
3 oz rye
1 oz Cynar
.5 oz nocino (or nocello)
1 dash salt water

Combine rye, Cynar, nocino and salt water in a mixing glass, stir with ice, then strain into a chilled rocks glass. Garnish with an orange twist and a candied walnut.

Notes:
To make the salt water, combine 2 Tbs sea salt into a 1/2 cup boiling water, stirring till dissolved and chill, or follow instructions here.

We last used a salt solution in the the Night of the Hunter cocktail to create the illusion of salty caramel. This time, the salt helps develop the complex flavors in the ingredients and brings them all together. It’s definitely a sipper, but one that gets better as you go. The bitterness isn’t the dominate flavor, but as the name kindly suggests, the Cynar does carry through. Research has shown that salt can actually counteract bitter flavors in a drink, but a full ounce of amaro is a lot to overcome. We tried doubling the amount of salt solution, and although this further enhances the flavor of the drink, it still retains a somewhat bitter finish. That’s not necessarily a bad thing!

You’ll definitely want to freeze your rocks glass for this. It’s a sipper that deserves to be savored, but it doesn’t have to get warm in the process. Ample dilution is also important. As written, the recipe is a full four and a half ounces before adding ice which is a big drink by classic definitions. We cracked six 1-inch cubes of ice for stirring and just barely took the edge off. You want some bite, but make sure you adequately chill the cocktail with plenty of ice and lots of stirring. You may want to scale the proportions back a little if all you want to do is try this out, but be sure you are getting a nice proportion of water into the cocktail either way.

We skipped the candied walnuts and went with just a pigtail orange twist garnish. On the nose, the orange comes through as it should even before the first sip. As it hits the tongue, the salt is there, seasoning the rye and the sweet walnuts followed by the soft bitterness and herbal complexity from the Cynar. If you are a Manhattan fan or you love a spirit driven cocktail, this is for you, but be prepared for an assault of flavor. You will definitely taste the rye whiskey in this drink. We used Templeton, but Pip Hanson suggests Rittenhouse. Actually, this cocktail has already evolved into something at Marvel Bar called the Oakenshield which appeared on their menu for a time. We assume the name is a reference to Thorin Oakenshield, leader of the Company of Dwarves in J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Hobbit. This updated version swaps a mildly smokey Scotch for the rye and the effect is so delicious we probably should have made it the Drink of the Week. So, scratch the recipe above and sub Scotch whisky instead of rye. The Drink of the Week is the Oakenshield. Gandalf approves.

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Paul
Paul

Hello ! First I have to say that you maintain the best mixology website I have ever encountered. There are many wonderful recipies you have made available to people like myself. I made the real pomegrenade grenadine a few weeks ago, and it turned out super. There are some kinds of spirits that are hard to get by here in Sweden where I live, as there is an alcohol monopoly here, but the state run Systembolaget offers a wide range of spirits even though. Yellow Chartreuse is one that I still have to find ( I might have to go… Read more »

Randy
Randy

Paul, Thanks for the kind words! I am glad the grenadine is working for you. Also, although we love yellow Chartreuse, don’t feel too bad about not finding it. You aren’t missing too much if you can get the green. Regarding Cynar, I wouldn’t recommend substituting Aperol in this drink. It might make a delicious variation, but it will be a very different flavor. I think of Aperol as a sweeter, less bitter version of Campari. Both are bitter, but also fruity, whereas Cynar is very herbal. Do you have access to any other dark herbal Italian amaro? Another way… Read more »

Paul
Paul

Hi Randy ! Thanks for your reply. The bitter Amaros I can find are:
Amaro Montenegro 23%
Amaro Ramazzotti 30%
Amaro Averna 29%
Quintessentia 35%
Braulio 21%

In vermouths they have both
Antica Formula ( Fratelli Branca )16,5%
and Punt e Mes 16%

So could you make the drinks containing yellow Chartreuse with the green one instead ? I understand the flavor wouldn’t be the same, but maybe similar at least.

Randy
Randy

Quintessenia is probably Nonino? lovely stuff, but not very bitter at all. Actually, Ramazzotti is also only mildly bitter as are some of the others you mentioned. All of them would be interesting subs that I would try before Aperol. Frankly, they are all different from one another. Punt e Mes is definitely worth a go. I love it because it’s a vermouth with a noticeable bitterness that also has a chocolate element that might take this drink to another level. As for Chartreuse, any self-respecting cocktail geek will have both green and yellow, and yes, the flavors are slightly… Read more »

Paul
Paul

Hi again Randy ! I ordered some Toschi Nocello, which was very sweet, and definitely had a nutty flavor, but it was light in color compared to what the Nocino looks like in pictures, and you could detect hazelnuts as well as walnuts. Do you think this works in this drink as well, or should I seek out a bottle of Nocino, which you only seem to be able to purchase directly from Italy ?
I’m also wondering how much salt water solution a dash would be ?

Randy
Randy

Paul, the recipe as it appears in books says you can use nocino or nocello. Either will work. I happened to have Nux Alpina which is nocino but I think hazelnuts would add another delicious dimension to this drink.

A dash is usually about 12 drops but can vary depending on how full the dasher bottle is. Most of us embrace the imprecision of the dash measurement. This drink can handle it if you add a few drops more or less of the salt solution. Adjust to how you like it.

Paul
Paul

Hi again Randy ! How do you make tohose neat curly lemon and orange zest swirls ? Do you boil them in a sugar solution and twist them around a chopstick to dry or ? Mine just don’t come out that curly with a zest iron.

Randy
Randy

Paul, that garnish is called a “pigtail” twist. Cut the peel with a channel knife and wrap it around a swizzle stick or something similar. Slip it off the stick and give it a tight pull to express the oils and hold its shape.

Find garnish answers here:
https://summitsips.com/2012/03/garnish

Paul
Paul

Hello ! I haven’t come around to making The Bitter Branch yet, but I have aquired a bottle of Nocello and a bottle of Nocillo-which I reckon is the same stuff as Nocino, a walnut liqueur which is 38%. I wonder which one to use, because I think the result will be quite different. The Nocello is sweet and nutty ( 24%), while the Nocillo which I tried a little of by itself today is walnutty, but not very sweet,rather a bit tart, and very complex as opposed to the syrupy Nocello, which is also much lighter. It might be… Read more »

Randy
Randy

Paul, you might have guessed my response: try it both ways! Mine was made using nocino, so it would be nice to compare notes, but I’d like to know how both of your products work out.

With such a long build-up to finally making this cocktail, I hope you won’t be disappointed. ;-)

Paul
Paul

Hi again ! I’m just wondering what volume you would give a dash, Is 0.25 oz ( 0.8 ml)a good starting point. In the Night of the Hunter you were very specific ( 30 drops . I am also wondering how much a bar spoon contains? I’ve tried a drink called Irish Dew today, which was good. You mix 3cl of Tullamore Dew ( which I didn’t have so I used Talisker, which was just as good- I believe ), 2cl cold Sumatra gayo coffee-which I couldn’t find so I used Yirgacheffe beans, which probably works just as well, and… Read more »

Randy
Randy

Paul, First, the dash: A dash is far less than .25 oz. Unfortunately, the dash may have a formal definition that is very specific SOMEWHERE, but in practice, it is highly variable. It largely depends on the bottle, the opening, and how full it is. For instance most commercial bitters come in dasher “woozy” bottles with a plastic limiter under the cap, Fee Bros. bottles have a larger hole in in that part whereas with Angostura, it’s smaller. In either case, a dash is simply the amount of liquid that comes out when you turn such bottles upside down as… Read more »

Randy
Randy

As for the bar spoon, they are all different. I read somewhere that some are 1/8th oz, or slightly less than a teaspoon. Here again, if a recipe specifies a bar spoon, it’s assumed that there is some level of imprecision in such a quantity. Either it doesn’t matter too much for that ingredient, or there is also the fact that if you are mixing the cocktail you should also be tasting the result in case it requires more or less of something. One thing I will say is that even with this kind of reference, it’s best to know… Read more »

Randy
Randy

Finally, regarding the recipe, it sounds tasty, but I would offer a few comments on your substitutions and how they would affect the outcome. First, Tullamore Dew is an Irish whiskey. You used Talisker which is Scotch. While the Scotch whisky might be very tasty and a worthy substitute that makes a good drink, it’s important to recognize that Scotch is a different product. In fact, this drink’s name is Irish Dew–a clear reference to both the origin of the base spirit and the brand. If you were going to sub the whiskey, it should at least be Irish like… Read more »

Paul
Paul

I finally tried my first Bitter Branch on Monday this week, and it had a very strong but complex and interesting flavor with the 76 proof Nocillo, and I really liked it. Not very sweet, a little bitter and the walnut licquore really carried through. I don’t know for sure if I should try it with Nocello- it might spoil a really good drink, or ….well, I’ll be back.

Randy
Randy

No doubt, it’s a strong drink with flavors that are not for everyone. Your efforts to reproduce it over the past weeks are admirable. Keep playing with the ingredients too. That’s what it is all about!

Paul
Paul

By the way, what a fantastic web site you are running Randy. Merry Christmas and A Happy New Year !

Randy
Randy

Paul, I appreciate your kind words. I am happy write about my experience in hopes that others like you are able to enjoy some explorations of your own. I am really glad you are not just reading, but taking extra time to post comments, ask questions and share your results. Happy New Year and thanks for reading!

Paul
Paul

I have now tried The Bitter Branch with both Nocillo and Nocello, and I definitely´think that Nocillo creates a better mix, with a better flavor. The Nocello is not so powerful when it comes to the nutty aroma, but more sweet.

I tried a good warm drink yesterday called Apple Dew. It contains 1 Tablespoon of lemon juice, 1 Tablespoon of orange juice, 1 Tablespoon of maple syrup, 1 dl of cloudy apple juice and .75dl of Tullamore Dew. You heat it on the stove and serve it warm. Really good when it is 0F outside.

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