A few months ago, I wrote about an amazing meal I had with some friends at Gramercy Tavern in New York. After dessert, our waitress recommended a couple of amari for us to taste. She brought out Amaro Averna and Amaro Nonino. Everyone else at the table seemed to prefer the Averna, but I liked the Nonino better. When I saw the price difference between them, however ($30 vs. $50), I made the Averna my first amaro purchase. But I suppose I was just delaying the inevitable - I finally bought a bottle of Nonino, and I think it was well worth the money. Its flavor is just beautiful. It's light and sweet and nutty, with flavors of vanilla, caramel, spices, and a bit of anise. I already snuck it into one cocktail, the European Vagrant, and I've got many more to come.
Amaro Nonino (officially Amaro Nonino Quintessentia) is made in Friuli in northeastern Italy. The Nonino distillery was founded there in 1897 by Orazio Nonino, who produced grappa, an Italian grape liqueur. Though the family has continued to produce grappa ever since, I was surprised to find out that Nonino is a fairly new product, born in 1992. It is made from an aged grape distillate infused with a number of herbs and spices including gentian root, saffron, bitter orange, licorice, rhubarb, tamarind, sweet orange, and carmelized sugar. It's traditionally served at room temperature after a meal as a digestif, but it can also make a nice aperitif when served on the rocks or in a cocktail. It's easily one of my favorite bottles in my bar.
Amaro NoninoPrice: $50
Alcohol Content: 35%
Popular Cocktails: Paper Plane, served up as a digestif
The Paper Plane is one of the better-known drinks that contains Amaro Nonino. Like the Last Word, it's an equal-parts cocktail with four ingredients: bourbon, Aperol, Amaro Nonino, and lemon juice. It's sour and tart, with a subtly bitter aftertaste. Nuttiness from the Nonino, bright citrus from the Aperol, and rich bourbon tie it all together. It's lighter and more refreshing than you would expect from its ingredients.
If you don't have Amaro Nonino and aren't ready to take the plunge (do it!), you could definitely try this recipe with other amari and see how it turns out. I've also seen a version that uses Campari instead of Aperol. There's definitely room to play around, but it's hard to beat the original.
History: The Paper Plane was created by Sam Ross at Little Branch in New York City. A former bartender at the famous Milk & Honey, Ross opened Attaboy with Michael McIlroy in the bar’s old space. He also invented the well-known Penicillin cocktail, so he’s kind of a big deal.
As I mentioned last week, I got to spend the weekend before Thanksgiving in New York City, crossing some amazing cocktail bars off my bucket list. One of these – my favorite, in fact – was Attaboy. I vaguely knew that Sam Ross owned the bar, but it didn’t occur to me to find out what he looked like or anything; for some reason I assumed that the big-name guys who own these bars never actually step behind them anymore. So when our bearded Australian bartender introduced himself as “Sam,” I just smiled and nodded and complimented the drinks. It was literally 48 hours later that the wayward neurons in my brain (no doubt a bit fried by the weekend of barhopping) made the connection, and I facepalmed pretty hard. No wonder the drinks were so perfect. Sam, on the off-chance you read this, thanks for a lovely time.
As for the Paper Plane, Ross named it after M.I.A.'s song Paper Planes, which he was listening to while he worked on the recipe.
Paper Plane1 oz. bourbon
1 oz. Aperol
1 oz. Amaro Nonino
1 oz. lemon juice
Combine all ingredients in a shaker with ice and shake until chilled. Strain into a coupe glass. No garnish. Or get cute and fold a teeny tiny paper plane to hang on the glass.
Recipe adapted from Liquor.com.