When we’re making drinks around the holidays, we’re looking for crowd-pleasers. No need to visit the frontiers of mixology, here; we want our cocktails to be bright and accessible. But special occasions do call for special bottles.
That’s why, this season, we’re reaching for Amaro Nonino, a liqueur that’s rich and weighty enough for the winter, vibrant and easygoing enough for the casual drinker, but complex and compelling enough for seasoned cocktail enthusiasts, too.
Some bitter liqueurs are harsh and medicinal. Others, spine-tingling and aggressive. And still others are sweet enough that their bitter elements don’t break through. Amaro Nonino, from the northern Italian region of Friuli, is none of these.
Thanks to a fierce backbone of gentian, there’s an undeniable bitter throughline. But thanks to elements of citrus, especially orange, and the rich honeyed character of its grappa body, there’s a supple sweetness that keeps it bright and lively.
Break out Nonino after dinner, sip it neat, and odds are you’ll plow through the bottle in no time. But we also adore the liqueur in simple cocktails. Here are three we love.
Easy: Nonino Rusty Nail
The old-school liqueur Drambuie—which is paired with Scotch in a classic called the Rusty Nail—is all heather and honey, aspects that remind us of Nonino. They’re similarly boozy, too. Stir Scotch and Nonino together, add Angostura bitters for depth and body, and you have a brawny, satisfying whiskey cocktail that makes for a perfect winter nightcap.
Instructions: In a mixing glass with ice, combine two ounces of blended Scotch and an ounce of Amaro Nonino. Add a dash of Angostura bitters. Stir until well-chilled, then strain into a rocks glass with fresh ice. Garnish with a lemon peel, twisted over the surface of the drink to spritz its citrus oils.
Intermediate: Fino-Nonino Collins
Sherry is one of our favorite cocktail ingredients, adding a layer of savory complexity without upping the alcohol content too much. It’s a perfect match for Nonino, along with citrus and soda, for a nuanced drink that’s light enough for the afternoon, and tasty enough for any hour.
Instructions: In a cocktail shaker with ice, combine an ounce and a half of fino sherry (Tio Pepe is a great bet), an ounce of Amaro Nonino, half an ounce of fresh lemon juice, and half an ounce of simple syrup. Shake until very well-chilled, then strain into a tall glass with fresh ice. Top with two ounces of club soda and stir briefly. Garnish with a long lemon peel.
Advanced: Nonino Bee’s Knees
While we wouldn’t call it sweet per se, there is a rich and complex honeyed quality to Amaro Nonino that makes us want to pair it with, well, honey. Add a good measure of gin and you’ve got a cocktail that drinks like a gimlet, but with an elusive herbal nuance that keeps you coming back for another sip.
Instructions: In a cocktail shaker with ice, combine an ounce of gin, an ounce of Amaro Nonino, an ounce of fresh lemon juice, and ¾ ounce of honey syrup (that’s honey cut 1:1 with hot water, and stirred until dissolved). Shake until very well-chilled, then strain into a chilled cocktail glass. Garnish with a lemon peel, twisted over the surface of the drink to spritz its citrus oils.
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