With a name like Amaro Nonino Quintessentia, you’d better be a rock star or a princess played by Anne Hathaway; otherwise there are a few eye rolls coming your way. Fortunately, this Amaro does not disappoint. It was first bottled in 1992 after a long creative process that Antonio Nonino began in 1933. Despite the fact that it tends to be lighter in color than many of the other Amari, the Nonino still packs a mighty punch. It’s created by infusing a grape distillate with a proprietary blend of fragrant herbs (yes, Antonio liked his secrets too), and then aging that infusion in small barriques until it is ready to be bottled. Grape distillate is made from wine skins, pulp, and juice and is very much like grappa, which can definitely be an acquired taste because of its harshness. The aging and the herbal infusion help to temper that harshness, so the Nonino starts out with bittersweet orange, licorice, and something definitely floral (not violets though), but there’s no denying the bite in its long, warm finish.
Because the Nonino is such an aggressive spirit on its own, I wanted to be sure to choose a cocktail that featured it well. A while back my friend (of the Twisted Gimlet from Azul in Miami fame) had sent me a recipe for a drink called The Paper Plane. It was created in 2008 by Sam Ross who also came up with the Penicillin cocktail I talked about a few weeks ago. At first glance the ingredients surprised me a bit. This was a drink that had a double dose of Amari, as well as lemon juice, making it both bitter and sour. Needless to say, I was intrigued to try it and then amazed at how well it all worked together. The smoothness of the whiskey brought out the sweetness in the Aperol and the Nonino, which helped to tone down their bitterness without compromising any of their flavor. Rather than tasting sour, the lemon juice brightened everything up and made the cocktail feel fun, rather than too serious. The warm flavors are perfect for cooler weather and the color is festive, so this is another perfect drink for Thanksgiving into Christmas.
The Paper Plane from Sam Ross, Attaboy, NYC
¾ oz Bluebird Distilling Four Grain Bourbon*
¾ oz Amaro Nonino
¾ oz Aperol
¾ oz freshly squeezed lemon juice
Lemon strip for garnishing
Add the ingredients to the bottom half of a cocktail shaker. Add your ice (1 large, 2 small if you have them) and shake for 20 seconds or until very cold. Double strain into a chilled cocktail coupe. Thread the lemon strip onto a cocktail pick and rest on the edge of the glass. Enjoy!
*Made locally in Phoenixville, Pa.