Whiskey cocktail

Whiskey cocktail hour: chocolate spices and all that is nice

Editor’s Note: After a long hiatus, we’re bringing back our Whiskey Cocktail Hour segment, in which we occasionally present you with an original whiskey-based cocktail idea for your viewing pleasure. Also note that we have provided purchase links at the end of this article for those who wish to have the option to collect Cocktail Ingredients. By doing this our site receives a small sponsorship payment which helps support, but not influence, our editorial and other costs.

For this month’s cocktail party, I wanted to bring a touch of fall inspiration to a beloved classic, the Manhattan. The typical base spirit for a Manhattan is rye. I love rye – it’s one of my favorite spirits to work with in a cocktail. Its spicy qualities and often higher index make it more interesting to work with while mixing, in my opinion.

Sagamore Rye is developed by a distillery in Maryland, a state historically known for a style of rye whiskey known as Maryland Rye (Sagamore currently sources its whiskey from its distiller friends in Indiana at MGP prior to the finish with spring water from Sagamore Farm, a legendary horse farm a few miles from the distillery). I’ll be curious to see the taste of their product that they have distilled themselves when it’s finally ready to be bottled.

Either way, Sagamore has nice notes of cloves, nutmeg and nuts, which seemed to lend itself well to the nutty quality it has. I decided to use Nocino to enhance these nutty notes.

Chocolate Spice & Everything Nice with Sagamore Rye (image via Emily Ross-Johnson / The Whiskey Wash)

Nocino is a thick, dark brown liqueur from the region of Emilia Romagna in northern Italy. It is traditionally made from unripe green walnuts. The good folks at the New Deal Distillery here in Portland, OR make some really good Nocino, which you can buy in their tasting room. We like to support the local when possible, so this is the one I chose to use in this recipe.

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Since we’re replacing the standard sweet vermouth in our Manhattan riff with Nocino, we also need a bitter / herbal element to balance the sweetness of the Nocino. For this, I chose Meletti. Meletti is a bitter liqueur from the Amaro category, also originating in Italy. It is often served after a meal as a digestive, pure or on ice and has notes of caramel, violet and saffron. It tastes almost chocolatey, so it seemed like a good pairing with the nutty rye and Nocino.

And it wouldn’t be Manhattan without bitters, so I went for Bittermen’s Xocolatl Mole Bitters, with its spicy chocolate notes to add more depth and flavor to the drink. Finally, I decided to rinse the cocktail glass with a little Fernet Branca, yet another bitter Italian Amaro. Fernet is a bit of a bartender favorite and for many of them a sort of badge of honor by just being able to tolerate a gunshot. Fernet is intense, bitter, minty, grassy and rooty. This is admittedly an odd combination of flavors, but it works in many different cocktail applications, and in this case, with Fernet Branca using around 75% of the world’s saffron resources, I thought it would go well with the notes of saffron in the Meletti.

Overall, there are a number of things in this cocktail that the average person certainly doesn’t have in their bar. That said, these amaro and bitters are all wonderful additions to your collection, and with such small amounts used in most cocktails, they will last a long time and you will definitely get your money’s worth, so it’s worth the investment. Hope you enjoy my fall inspired Manhattan riff, maybe Ron Swanson style, while listening to some moody music and sitting by a crackling fire. Hello, my darlings!

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Chocolate spices and all that is nice

  • 2 ounces of Sagamore rye
  • 1/4 oz Meletti
  • 1/4 New Deal Nocino
  • 3 dashes of Bittermen’s Mole Bitters
  • 1 teaspoon of Fernet Branca
  • Lemon twist

Add everything except Fernet to the mixing glass with ice. Stir for 30 seconds. Rinse the glass of the coupe with Fernet. Pour more. Strain the cocktail into a cup and garnish with lemon zest.


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