Amaro Nonino

Amaro Nonino
Amaro Nonino

I was at a wine bar the other night (not my idea, but I didn’t put up too much of a fight). My wife and I went with a couple of friends. I’m only telling you about it, because I fell in love with a delightful liqueur that night.

We were at Veloce below Spring St. in Manhattan because one of our friends knows the sommelier. While we were waiting for our drinks and food, Nathan (another follower of the malt) and I noticed a squat little bottle filled with red-gold liquid. We were intrigued. Luckily, at the end of the night, my new friend Douglas (the bartender) introduced us to the golden-colored liqueur called Amaro Nonino.

Amaro Nonino is an herbal liqueur made with water, neutral spirits, brandy, herbs, and sugar and aged for 5 years in oak barrels. At first, the nose is like Red Hots candy with a trace of alcohol. As the liquer oxydizes, the cinnamon and sugar notes give way to smells remniscent of a Chinese herb shop. The palate was very cordial-like in texture (syrupy and chewy) and tasted like Red Hots. Cinnamon and sugar were the overwhelming flavors, but I immediately had an affection for this drink that extended beyond such simple flavors. I don’t want you to think that Amaro Nonino tastes like cinnamon schnapps, because it does not. There are notes of licorice and burnt orange buried beneath the cinnamon spice. The finish is long and satisfying.  It is dangerously drinkable and is equally good before or after dinner. Amaro Nonino is sold as a digestif and is around 35% ABV.  It will set you back $35-40.  I encourage the adventurous to go out and find it, if only for those few nights you don’t want whisk(e)y after dinner.


Event Notice: Extravaganza Spring Tour ’09

The Single Malt & Scotch Whisky Extravaganza is making the rounds this spring.  You may remember this as the event that Richard spoke so highly of last month.  Well, here is your chance to get a piece of the action (if you live in Dallas, Denver, or New York that is).  The cost is $130 and the focus is completely on Single Malts (from around the world) and Scottish blends.  This event will be in Dallas April 16th, Denver April 30th, and New York City May 7th.  I have a previous engagement on May 7th, so raise a dram for me.

For more info go to

Glen Garioch 15 Year

43% ABV/86 Proof
Available in the United States and Europe – $45 to $55

What the distillery says:

Honey in color. Medium-bodied with hints of lavender and oak with a syrup sweetness. Long, mellow and very sumptuous finish.

What Matt says:

Nose: Heather, dulce de leche, trace hints of smoke
Palate: Clean palate with honey, vanilla, peat, cardamom, and what I could only assume is sherry.
Finish: Medium-long finish. The peat asserts itself here with a little alcohol and vanilla.
Comments: A very respectable Highland Malt. Fairly typical, which is to say good. Richard sent me this, so I don’t know much about it. I’m assuming that it spent some time in a sherry cask based on the flavor and color. Among the broad spectrum of all whiskies, I would say this is slightly above average, but does not quite stand out.
Rating: Average

What Richard says:

Nose: Tobacco, cedar, orange blossoms and a slight hint of vanilla.
Palate: Spicy and smoky but with a light bit of sweetness.  All of this is layed on a foundation or earthiness.
Finish: The finish gives me a bit of briney peat and alcohol burn.
Comments: I really find this dram uninspiring.  It was the last “blind buy” that I made, meaning bought without tasting or hearing anything about it.  It’s not particulary bad.  It just doesn’t make me want a 2nd dram.
Rating: Average

Overall Rating: Average

UPDATE 1/26/10: As this is now a discontinued version of Glen Garioch replaced with a 12 Year Old we’ve moved this to The Collector’s Cabinet

Boilermaker in a bottle

Few things go together like whisk(e)y and beer: peanut butter and jelly, chocolate and strawberries, bacon and… well, anything. Plus, a boilermaker is about the only thing that no bartender can screw up. A while back, I did a blog about how some whisk(e)y makers who are using barley traditionally reserved for beer to make some really great whisk(e)y. Well, today I’m talking about beer aged in whisk(e)y barrels. A lot of craft and micro breweries are experimenting with cask conditioned beers aged in bourbon casks and at least one brewery is making beer aged in single malt scotch casks.

Most breweries are using dark beers like porter or stout. Goose Island in Chicago brews up Bourbon County Stout. This bourbon barrel-aged imperial stout is rich, chocolaty, and smoky. For my taste, the beer picks up too much sweetness from the bourbon (although it is better than most of it’s competition) and at 13% ABV this beer has some bite. It tastes a little like dropping half a shot of bourbon into a chocolate stout. My brother-in-law loves this beer and only complains that it gets him drunk too quickly so he can’t have one with lunch. Goose Island also does a version of this beer with coffee beans added to the barrel only available at one of the Goose Island locations in Chicago. I have not had the pleasure of making its acquaintance.

Another brewery to age a sweet, dark beer in whisky casks is Scotland’s Harviestoun Brewery. Harviestoun offers not one, but three porters (roughly based on the ever popular Old Engine Oil), called Ola Dubh, aged in HIghland Park cask; a 12yr, a 16yr, and a 30yr. Of three, the 16 is the best. The 12 is overly sweet and tastes more like a boilermaker in a bottle than a unique beverage. Highland Park 30yo is a very fine whisky (very fine), but is too complex and delicate to survive the porter’s bolder qualities. The Ola Dubh 16, is absolutely stunning. This is not just a beer. This is something altogether different. There are notes of dark chocolate, hops, damp earth, fruit, smoke and peat. This is truly an example of a sum that is greater than its parts (and the parts weren’t bad).

Although most breweries opt for dark beers, Twisted Pines Brewing in Boulder, CO has created a red ale aged in Buffalo Trace casks. By using a red ale, Twisted Pines gets around the over-sweet pitfall. This is without a doubt one of the best beers I have had. Like the Ola Dubh 16, Oak Whiskey Red is greater than the sum of its parts. You get a lot of Buffalo Trace on the nose and the bourbon adds some toffee and smoke to an already great beer (they use their Red Mountain Ale). Hopefully, more breweries will take the cue and give us some more bourbon barrel-aged red ales.

As you can imagine, these are small run beers from small breweries. What does that mean to you? They can be hard to find (Old Whiskey Red is not available outside of Boulder) and more expensive than your average beer. However, this is such a big trend, there is likely a micro-brewery in your area that is working on something like this (especially with porters and stouts). If not, go to the brew master and request it.

I know I also promised a review of Brooklyn Brewery’s Black Ops bourbon barrel-aged Russian imperial stout, but my best efforts came up empty. If I find it, I’ll post an update.

If you know of a good whisk(e)y barrel-aged beer, let us know about it. Happy hunting.