Over the holiday weekend we made the beginnings of what will become [delicious *wink*] Vin de Noix, or Green Walnut Liqueur. I'm not yet lucky enough to have sampled the aperitif, but in France it's used in cooking or sipped during the cold months. I'm anxious to see what cocktails might be inspired when the mixture is ready.
As tradition often dictates necessity, the walnuts are picked between two french holidays - St. Jean's feast day on June 25th and Bastille day on July 14 when they are said to be at peak. Ironically, this made Independence Day a good day for the preparations. The walnuts were ordered from California where they make a brief appearance at farmer's markets.
The basic tenets of making any fortified wine such as this (also vermouth, port or bitters for that matter) is to start with a base spirit (brandy, eau de vie, vodka, grain alcohol), then add a combination of herbs, spices and fruits (cinnamon, cloves, vanilla bean, orange peel, bitter herb), then red or white wine (we omitted the wine for some of our batches, as you would with bitters) and then your sweetness (usually only added if you're using a neutral base spirit or dry white wine).
Then just let it sit in a cool, dark place, occasionally agitating and sampling over time. For the Vin de Noix, this is a four+ month process, as the walnuts lose their bitterness and mellow out.
Here are some loose instructions for making your own batch:
1. Use walnuts that can be pierced easily.
2. Quarter 20-40 walnuts per batch, wearing gloves as you cut for the walnuts easily stain hands, boards and counter tops once opened.
3. Add anywhere from 500 to 1000ml of the base spirit to a large mason jar. We used Smirinoff vodka as nothing expensive should be used.
4. Add the sweetness, for two of the batches we added maple syrup (1/2 to 3/4 of a cup) and for the other two we used sucanat (evaporated cane juice that is slow to dissolve so will need to be shaken occasionally for the next few days).
5. Add the herbs/spices: one or two cinnamon sticks, two or more cloves, one or two star anise (used only in one batch), a half or whole vanilla bean (scored), a few pink peppercorns
6. Add the fruit: a few slices of a lemon or orange or just the peel of either.
7. Add the walnuts and seal, making sure that there is air left in the jar for the oxidation process to begin (hence the walnuts turning black).
8. Top with wine if using. In the first batch we used a white Bordeaux, in the third we used a combination of Noilly Pratt dry vermouth and Lillet.
In a 1.9L jar
One bottle vodka
One bag of earl grey tea
One cup sucanat
The petals of one monarda flower
One sliced orange
One vanilla bean
One cinnamon stick
One tsp anise seed
One tsp mixed peppercorns
30 quartered green walnuts
A monarda flower: similar to bergamot; slightly sweet and a bit herbal.