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Holiday Nuttiness

For the last five years or so, my rather large extended family has gathered at my dad’s house the Saturday after Thanksgiving for a celebratory meal. Nestled inside that tradition has been another, where I play bartender: creating a special drink for the occasion. This year was no different, but because I was dedicated to not just spending all my time making drinks, I decided to pre-batch my concoction for easier preparation. Since my girlfriend had requested “something nutty,” I decided to riff on a cocktail she’s enjoyed the last few times we’ve been to Capitol Hill’s Liberty: the Black Walnut Old Fashioned.

I started with Bulleit Rye, because I knew that I wanted the drink to stay on the spicier side, instead of the sweeter direction Bourbon would have taken it. Bulleit Rye is one of my favorites for mixed drinks, as I think it combines good flavor with good value. Old Overholt, another go-to of mine, felt like it would just be too light for this application. From there, I added a few dashes of Fee Brothers Black Walnut bitters. I knew I was going to add a walnut-flavored simple syrup as well, but I felt like I wanted a fourth ingredient, especially since I wasn’t going to be muddling an orange peel or anything like that. I also knew I wanted to stick with the spicy and earthy theme that I had working, and so the Italian liqueur Cynar seemed like a natural fit, especially given what I had on hand. Certainly a more classic choice would have been a Nocino (Italian walnut liqueur), but I often find that too many versions of the same flavor actually can serve to confuse the drink. Cynar’s brightness felt like a natural, though I suspect good results would have been achieved with Cardamaro or even something richer like Averna.

Of course, one of the challenges in batching cocktails is that you can’t just scale up your recipe in a linear fashion: generally speaking I tend to go slightly heavier on the base spirit and lighter on the others, especially bitters. For a one-liter batch, I ended up with about 1.5 ounces of bitters, 4 ounces of Cynar, 3 ounces of walnut simple syrup, and the rest (about 25 ounces) of Bulleit Rye. The end result was fantastic poured over ice. I eschewed a garnish, but if pressed I’d throw a generous lemon twist in there and call it a win.

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