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Watershed Distillery Nocino & The Vintage 2015 vs. 2016 Tasteoff

Posted by cmh gourmand on December 25, 2016

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Let’s breakdown everything in the title in case you need any recaps.

Watershed Distillery is one of three, going on four distilleries in Central Ohio. An interesting story of their inception, while at a trade show they encountered a salesperson from the company working on their still who excitingly told them it was ready when he heard they were from Columbus. Since they had just ordered it and knew there was a long wait ahead they were both confused and excited. As it turned out, the still slated for delivery was for Middle West Spirits. That was how Watershed found out they were not going to be the first distillery in Central Ohio. There are many great stories and milestones accumulated while this libation creator has grown and expanded over the years. My favorite story and spirit are the same – Nocino.

Nocino originated in Italy. It is made from walnuts harvested as a very specific time. I’ve sampled Nocino in Italy on each of my forays there and found a liking for it. It is a labor intensive and messy process to make so it is not commonly found in the United States and typically not in large quantities. To my knowledge only four companies produce it the United States, one of those being Watershed of course.

Nocino was not in the original business plan nor phase two for growth of Watershed. A local physician hailing from Upper Arlington persistently pestered owners Dave and Greg to try a Nocino he made using an old family recipe. They deferred as long as they could. In the spirits business it is not uncommon for people to ply distilleries with homemade hooch begging to add a new recipe to the line up. However, to everyone’s surprise, the doctor’s prescription was easy on the palate and pleasant to the taste buds. Oddly, all the doctor asked for as compensation was a thank you, so every bottle of Nocino says Thanks Charlie on the back of the label.

“Season three” of Nocino was released a few weeks ago. It is very likely most of it will be gone by March or early April. This concoction is as Ohio as a spirit can be. Ohio grown black walnuts soaked in alcohol made from mostly Ohio raw ingredients with so sugar and spices blended in and aged to create a dark, slightly sweet liquor. It goes good in a glass, goes great on ice cream or as a deft drizzle on top of some egg nog. Tis the season for Nocino.

When I brought my first bottle of 2016 Nocino (bottle 229) home, I discovered I still had an unopened bottle of 2015 in the cupboard (bottle 4965). I was mildly surprised at this. I am not one to horde alcohol but then I recalled another development / expenditure in 2015 – CMH Griffin, my son. This in turn has reduced my alcohol consumption significantly because I don’t drink alone but fatherhood has, in part, reduced my socializing about 94%.

In the spirit of research and socialization, I decided the 2015 and 2016 Nocinos needed to be evaluated head to head to see if one was better than the other. This might seem odd in that most alcohols by design are created to be consistent, to always taste the same and deliver the same flavor profile. In the case of Nocino with the base being walnuts we can expect to see a similar terrior effect that we see in wines – flavor variations due to soil, climate (thank goodness there is no climate change to worry about), etc. For my tasting team I recruited El Jefe (not previously mentioned in this blog) and the Grumpy Old Man (mentioned in Ohio Donut Trail expeditions). El Jefe is a professional drinker. The Grumpy Old Man is a conundrum wrapped around an oxymoron. He lives in a sliver of Venn Diagram that can not have much overlap an artist that is also an ultra conservative with some other far right rantings. Part of this involves an unexplained dislike for any locally made spirits or beers. It seems odd that an artist would be so uninclined to support another craftsperson. I had tricked him into drinking Nocino New Years Eve of 2015 so he had to begrudgingly admit that he had consumed it. I also started to build up his paranoia about this tasting. I placed both bottles on the table and shared nothing about the goals of the tasting other than both bottles needed to be sampled and both El Jefe and Grumpy Old Man had to determine the differences between the two bottles.

Astute readers will note some slight labeling differences in the bottles in the photo included with this piece but I did not point this out to The Grumpy Old Man which further fueled his apprehension about this being another one of my “schemes”. Tasting was conducted with great earnest by Jefe and myself. The Grumpy Old Man vacillated back and forth muttering to himself while talking smalls tastes from each bottle repeatedly.

The final verdict. There are discernible differences between the two years. Both versions of the Nocino will enjoyed…..sampled several times over the evening by all parties. The 2016 Nocino prefered over the 2015. The 2015 version seemed to show some slight “separation” within the bottle. There was a slightly different aroma between the two. The 2015 smelled more of alcohol whereas the 2016 had a trace of molasses wafting from it. There is .01 difference in alcohol by volume between the two years with the 2016 Nocino yielding the extra kick. Our unanimous winner is the 2016 Nocino which is great news for you because there is still time to buy some.

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