Whiskey Cocktail Hour: Chocolate Spice & Everything Nice

Editor’s Note: After a long hiatus, we are bringing back our Whiskey Cocktail Hour segment, in which we present you an occasional original whiskey based cocktail idea for your enjoyment. Note as well we’ve provided buy links at the end of this article for those wanting an option to collect cocktail ingredients. By doing so our site receives a small referral payment which helps to support, but not influence, our editorial and other costs.

For this month’s cocktail I wanted do a fall-inspired twist on a beloved classic, the Manhattan. The typical base spirit for a Manhattan is rye. I love rye – it is one of my favorite spirits to work with in a cocktail. Its spice qualities and often higher proof make it more interesting to work with while mixing, in my opinion.

Sagamore Rye is developed by a distillery in Maryland, a state historically known for a style of rye whiskey known as Maryland Rye (Sagamore currently sources its whiskey from their Indiana distiller friends at MGP before finishing it with spring water that comes from Sagamore Farm, a fabled horse farm some miles from the distillery). I’ll be curious to see what their product tastes like that they’ve distilled themselves when it finally is ready for bottling.

In any case, Sagamore has some lovely clove, nutmeg, and walnut notes to it, which seemed to lend itself well to playing up the nutty quality it has. I decided to use some Nocino to enhance those nutty notes.

Chocolate Spice & Everything Nice

Chocolate Spice & Everything Nice with Sagamore Rye (image via Emily Ross-Johnson/The Whiskey Wash)

Nocino is a thick, dark brown liqueur that originated in the Emilia-Romagna region in northern Italy. It is traditionally made using unripe green walnuts. The good people over at New Deal distillery here in Portland, OR make some very fine Nocino, which you can purchase in their tasting room. We love to support local when possible, so this is the one I chose to use in this recipe.

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Since we are replacing the standard sweet vermouth in our Manhattan riff with Nocino, we also need a bitter/herbal element to balance the sweetness of the Nocino. For this, I chose Meletti. Meletti is a bitter liqueur in the Amaro category, which also originates in Italy. It’s often served after a meal as a digestivo, neat or on the rocks and it has notes of caramel, violets, and saffron. It has an almost chocolatey taste to it, so it seemed like a good pairing with the nuttiness of the rye and Nocino.

And it wouldn’t be a Manhattan without bitters, so I opted for the Bittermen’s Xocolatl Mole Bitters, with it’s spiced chocolate notes to add more depth and flavor to the drink. Finally, I decided to rinse the cocktail glass with a little Fernet Branca, yet another bitter Italian Amaro. Fernet is a bit of a bartender fave and for a lot of them a sort of badge of honor in being able to simply tolerate a shot of it plain. Fernet is intense, bitter, minty, herbal, and rooty. Its admittedly a weird combination of flavors, but it works in many different cocktail applications, and in this case, with Fernet Branca using about 75% of the world’s saffron resources, I figured it would make a good accompaniment to the saffron notes in the Meletti.

All in all, this cocktail contains a number of things that most assuredly the average person doesn’t have kicking around their home bar. That said, these amaro and bitters are all wonderful additions to your collection, and with such small amounts being used in most cocktails, they will last a long time and you will most definitely get your money’s worth out of them, so it’s worth the investment. I hope you’ll enjoy my fall-inspired Manhattan riff, perhaps Ron Swanson style, while listening to some moody music and sitting near a crackling fire. Cheers, My Dears!

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Chocolate Spice & Everything Nice

  • 2 oz Sagamore Rye
  • 1/4 oz Meletti
  • 1/4 New Deal Nocino
  • 3 dashes Bittermen’s Mole Bitters
  • 1 barspoon Fernet Branca
  • Lemon Twist

Add all but Fernet to mixing glass with ice. Stir for 30 seconds. Rinse coupe glass with Fernet. Pour off extra. Strain cocktail into coupe and garnish with lemon twist.



Emily Ross-Johnson

Emily is a bit of a Jane of All Trades. She started her career as an opera singer in NYC, and over time gravitated to the Food & Beverage Industry. Over the span of her professional life she has performed at Carnegie Hall, founded her own Whiskey Society, represented numerous...