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Nocino: an easy and fun classic recipe for walnut liqueur

    Nocino in Brandy
    Walnuts ready to harvest from tree Green leaves background

    Nocino is a fabulous digestif, a traditional Italian bitter made from unripe walnuts. So long as the walnuts are green and immature, you can use any type of walnuts to make this lovely liqueur.

    Getting ahead of the squirrels

    I made my first batch in 2017 when we lived in on a property with 10 walnut trees. Despite the number of trees, they were so overgrown that few walnuts fully matured and the bulk of those that did went mostly to squirrels. If I wanted to get value out of the walnuts, I had to make something with them before they got snagged by squirrels.

    I’m pretty happy with the results of this unripe walnut experiment and a couple of others that will be written about another time. Nocino has become one of my favorite liqueurs.

    Make nocino on the eve of summer

    I have made nocino at least three times since then, and recently ran out of the last batch. We have since moved, but remain in touch with neighbors and will soon be collecting nuts to make more nocino. The trees are still bare of leaves, but will have both leaves and nuts by May. I’ll aim to pick in the first week of June if the nuts are well-formed enough. Traditionally, the latest date to make Nocino is June 24. The goal is to make it before the inner shell of the nut begins to harden under the outer husk..

    Making nocino is a matter of infusing alcohol, either plain spirits, or brandy with sliced or quartered green walnuts. Once infused, the two are left untouched for 3 or more months before the liquid is poured off. During this time, juice is drawn out from the nuts and mixes with the alcohol. I’ve never measured the alcohol content except with my tongue. This time, I will measure the end volume and calculate the differential from the starting liquid to get the percentage. That said, taste makes it seem to be about 24%.


    Rubber or nitrile gloves

    Do yourself a favor and wear rubber or nitrile gloves when picking the nuts. Especially wear the gloves when slicing the walnuts before putting them into the jar. If you don’t do this, your hands will be stained for a few days. Be careful with your countertops too. I usually put the cutting board over the sink with the jar in the sink and work directly into that. Then pour the alcohol over the nuts.

    Leave the jug of nocino to age in the sun, then, sometime in September pour the alcohol off of the walnuts, and mix in a cup of sugar per liter of liquid. The sugar will bond with the sediments and help them settle, and it becomes easier to taste the nocino later when it is time to make adjustments.

    Adjust sweetness to taste

    If you taste the nocino at this point, it will be be astringently bitter, even with sugar added. So, unless you are really intent on following the development of the flavors, don’t taste it yet. Wait until at least November. It will still be bitter, but the walnut flavors will begin to show. decant the liquid into a bottle or jar. Work carefully to avoid unsettling the sediment at the bottom of the jar. Once the liquid is transferred, you can decide if you want to add more sugar.

    The articles I read before making my first batch suggested that the first batch would be gone by Christmas, and the authors were right. The first few tastes were bitter much like Fernet Branca, but over time it mellowed nicely into something much more subtle and compelling. It was a small test batch though and between the two of us it was indeed gone by Christmas.


    Aging adds depth & character

    The next batch was a bit larger and I strategically hid some of it away in a place where it was less obvious, and that lasted over a year. This really helped show the value of aging the nocino. It appears that the walnut flavor continues to develop for quite a long while, as if the walnuts were still ripening, even in the alcohol.

    Some recipes suggest adding other ingredients in the infusion process. Lemon juice or peel, cinnamon, or vanilla bean are often suggested. I’ve never found them to be necessary though, the walnut flavor on its own is quite compelling. If I were to consider adding other elements, my preference would be to infuse them separately and blend them at the bench.

    This recipe will give wonderful results. You may not want to share.

    A little something extra

    After the first extraction, you can use the nuts to make a second infusion with different qualities…the first is more raw and tannic, but also lower in alcohol, as it mingles with the moisture present in the fresh nuts. The second infusion is more alcoholic, but also more elegant. Over time, each infusion will mellow to a nutty, lovely flavour. You can keep them separate to compare the differing qualities, or blend them as you prefer.

    Nocino in Brandy

    Nocino walnut liqueur digestif

    Prep Time: 30 minutes
    Total Time: 32 minutes
    Servings: 20



    • 1 kg Green Walnuts Quartered, any spots cut off
    • 1 litre Vodka or Grappa, or Brandy…


    • 1 cup Sugar



    • Pour the spirits (vodka or brandy) over the walnuts in a canning jar.
    • Nocino in Brandy
      Set aside until September
    • Gently pour the liquid off of the nuts taking care not to disturb the sediments
    • Add the sugar and mix it into the liquid
    • Let this sit for another couple of months

    Blending the liqueur

    • Strain the spirits off of the nuts into a new clean jar, either by carefully decanting, or by pouring it through a coffee filter or clean white cloth
    • Add more sugar if desired, 1/4 cup at a time, allowing it to fully dissolve before adding more until you find your ideal sweetness
    • Set the blended liqueur away for at least another month, ideally for as long as a year. The longer it ages, the mellower it will be and the more the walnut notes will mature.


    I’ve tried more complicated methods, but this simple one also produces the best results by far 
    Tried this recipe?Let us know how it was!
    Nocino in Brandy
    Nocino in Brandy
    Walnuts for Nocino

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