This walnut liqueur is made with green, unripe walnuts that are still soft in their green husks. The liqueur is aromatic, nutty, sweet, slightly bitter, and dark brown in color. It is probably Austria’s most beloved and famous liqueur.
Variations from country to country
This kind of liqueur is known as ‘nocino’ in Italy, ‘noix’ in France, and ‘Nüsse’ in Germany – although there are regional differences, of course. Basically, every European country, especially in the East, has their own variety.
I grew up in Upper Austria, surrounded by walnut trees. Upper Austria is known for its spiced walnut liqueur ‘Nuss-Schnaps’. The traditional blend of green nuts, spices and alpine botanicals make it a rich and flavorful walnut liqueur.
When to pick green walnuts for liqueur
Timing is crucial when making walnut liqueur with green walnuts. Harvested too early and the walnuts will not be ripe enough and still be kind of liquid in the center. Picked too late, it is impossible to cut them since the hardened shell has already formed within the green outer shell.
Although, the ripening varies according to climate and weather conditions, a good rule of thumb is to pick them around June 24, St. John’s Day (or San Giovanni in Italy / Johannistag in Austria and Germany). If you are lucky to have access to a walnut tree, cut a green nut open every few days and check. The inside of the green walnut should be white and firm for making liqueur.
Wash the walnuts and cut each nut into some slices. The nuts stain strongly (dark brown), so I recommend to wear rubber gloves and to use an old cutting board.
Besides the green walnuts, you’ll need some spices (find the exact amounts in recipe below).
Place the sliced nuts and spices in a large jar (one 2.5 l / 3 quarts or distribute between two smaller jars).
Dark liqueur from green
For this aromatic and nutty liqueur, the green walnuts are steeped in an alcohol base together with some spices. I use vodka (40 %) since I like its neutral taste. A lot of people in Austria also use double-distilled wheat schnapps (38 %) to make walnut liqueur.
Once you add the spirit to the nuts and spices, the nuts taint the clear alcohol dark and darker. The alcohol changes its color from a bright yellow to amber. After about 6 weeks of steeping, the walnut liqueur is dark brown, almost black, with a greenish hue.
After the steeping, strain the spices and nuts and add some sugar. Stir to dissolve. Pour the liqueur back into the cleaned jar and let it sit, closed, for another 1-2 weeks before tasting. Fill the liqueur into clean bottles using a funnel, and store in the basement or at cool room temperature.
Walnut liqueur needs time to ripen
The walnut liqueur will taste relatively sharp immediately after preparation. After a few months it will taste balanced and mellow and it will continue to develop its flavor over years! Some of the best walnut liqueurs I’ve tasted have been aging for a few years.
Walnut liqueur as digestif
The warm spices – think cinnamon, ginger, cloves, vanilla, cardamom – in combination with the bitter-sweet taste from the nuts and sugar make it a perfect treat to enjoy around Christmas time.
Usually, people in Austria will sip it neat at cool room temperature. It’s smooth, drinkable and pleasantly aromatic, which is why people often times drink it after a heavy meal as digestif or to calm an upset stomach. It also tastes great over vanilla ice cream :)
Spiced walnut liqueur from Austria
Yield: ca. 1,4 liters (about 6 cups)
Spiced walnut liqueur is made from unripe, green walnuts. The spices and nuts give this liqueur a bitter-sweet herbal and aromatic taste that people especially enjoy around Christmas time. Usually, people in Austria will sip it neat. It’s smooth, drinkable and pleasantly aromatic, which is why people often times drink it after a heavy meal as digestif or to calm an upset stomach.
Traditionally, the green nuts should be harvested around June 24th, St. John's Day. If harvested too late, the hard shell inside the green husk will develop and make it impossible to cut.
Tip: The nuts stain strongly (dark brown), so I recommend wearing rubber gloves and using an old cutting board.
2 lightly packed cups (300 g) light brown sugar, more if needed
Wash the walnuts and cut each nut into four slices. Wear rubber gloves to avoid staining. Place the sliced nuts in a large jar (one 2.5 liters or 3 quarts, alternatively distribute between two smaller jars).
Wash the lemon with hot water. Pat it dry, zest it with a sharp knife or peeler, without any of the white, bitter part. Peel ginger and cut it into slices. Carefully crush the cardamom pods with the flat side of a knife just to crack them open. Split the vanilla bean lengthwise. Wash the mint and shake dry. Add lemon peel, ginger, cardamom, vanilla and mint to the jar.
Add fennel seeds, anise seeds, cinnamon sticks, cloves, and star anise. The nuts and all spices should be in the jar now. Pour vodka into the jar.
Close the jar with a lid or cover with cling wrap. Place the jar in a warm or sunny spot (e.g. windowsill) and let the mixture steep for about 6 weeks. It will gradually darken. After 6 weeks, it should be very dark, almost black.
Filter the mixture through a strainer into a big bowl or pitcher. I always filter it twice – the second time through multiple layers of cheesecloth or any other cloth to filter fine particles. Remember, the liqueur stains everything! Discard the spices and nuts.
Add the sugar to the spiced spirit and stir for a few minutes until it dissolves. Pour the liqueur back into the cleaned jar and let it sit, closed, for another 1-2 weeks before tasting. The walnut liqueur will taste relatively sharp immediately after preparation. It will get mellower over time. If you like it sweeter, add more sugar, stir, and leave it for another 1-2 weeks. But keep in mind that it will lose its sharp flavor over the next few months, so err on the side of less sugar. Fill the liqueur into clean bottles using a funnel, and store in the cellar or at cool room temperature.
After a few months it will taste balanced and mellow and it will continue to develop its flavor over years! Walnut liqueur tastes best neat and sipped slowly, at cool room temperature. Due to its warm and aromatic taste, it is perfect for Christmas season and also makes a great gift. In Austria, people also enjoy it as digestif year round or to sooth an upset stomach. It also tastes great over vanilla ice cream :) Enjoy!
If the liqueur is too aromatic for you, thin it with more vodka. If you want it to be lower in alcohol, add a litte distilled water. But please, only add these ingredients after a few month of letting the liqueur ripen.