01 Dec Spirited Review: Cardinal Spirits Black Bear Bierschnaps and Walnut Nocino
After creating a solid core of spirits, Cardinal Spirits has begun testing out more obscure varieties of liquors. The first two are bierschnaps and Nocino — both of which are not commonly found in America.
They were gracious enough to send me a bottle of each to review. Since these would be new libations to my palate, I shared the bierschnaps and Nocino with others, which helped me obtain a well-rounded opinion of each.
Black Bear Bierschnaps
“Black Bear Bierschnaps is a distilled stout — a collaboration with Upland Brewing Co. in Bloomington. It is made with Upland’s Teddy Bear Kisses stout, which we brewed together with Upland brewers, then fermented and distilled on site at Cardinal Spirits.” – Cardinal Spirits Bierschnaps
After reading the press release for Black Bear Bierschnaps back in October, I found myself intrigued. Here is this spirit, made from beer, and somehow I had never heard of it before. I had to try it.
The bierschnaps carried over many of Teddy Bear Kisses characteristics. It is deep black in color, with a sweet, malty, and chocolatey aroma that finishes with a strong alcoholic smell. Taste-wise it has a nice roasted malt flavor, with notes of cocoa nibs, coffee, and some bitterness from the hops. It finished with all 29 percent of its ABV. You could have told me Black Bear Bierschnaps was a barrel aged version of TBK, and I would have believed you.
Sadly, I did not get to try the bierschnaps mixed into a cocktail, but I did mix it with two parts Teddy Bear Kisses. It brought out the hops a bit more and tempered the sweetness, making it even better.
The others who tried the bierschnaps were pleasantly surprised by how well it tastes. Like myself, they did not know what to expect but found it to be a perfect drink for dessert, similar to a Port wine. TheSpeakPodcast brought me on their Thanksgiving show, and I had them taste Black Bear Bierschnaps. This was some of their thoughts:
“It’s very reminiscent of a bourbon barrel aged stout. The distilling brings out a lot more of the sweetness than is normally present in the beer.” – Rob
“If you enjoy the taste of Teddy Bear Kisses but you don’t want to invest your time in all 12 ounces, then just take a shot of this.” – Pete
“The sweetness of the schnapps really does accentuate the bitterness and coffee in the beer.” – Rob
At $28 for a 750mL bottle, Black Bear Bierschnaps is well worth its price tag. You can find it at the Cardinal Spirits distillery and Big Red Liquors. And if you can find Teddy Bear Kisses, I would suggest buying at least one to try along with the bierschnaps.
“Nocino is a European-style walnut amaro. We created this walnut spirit using a traditional European method, harvesting the walnuts while they were still green in mid-summer and steeping them in our grape vodka along with cinnamon and spices.” – Cardinal Spirits Nocino
With the Nocino, I had zero expectations. Walnut is not a flavor I’m quite familiar with, nor is amaro, but I enjoy trying any kind of alcohol because you never know what you might find amazing. Sadly, Cardinal Spirits Walnut Nocino did not make that list for me.
It is brownish in color, has an earthy aroma, and a serious bite. You can taste the walnuts and a bit of the maple but the earthy, medicinal taste is a bit overpowering. Honestly, it reminds me a Jägermeister, with less of a black licorice flavor.
The Nocino was not palatable on its own; however, I believe it could be wonderful as a mixer. My brother-in-law and I made Nocinobombs — Nocino and Monster Energy — and they tasted similar to a Jägerbombs, something I enjoy.
Those who tried it with me had similar feelings. You can appreciate what Cardinal Spirits was going for, but either their end goal was missed or our palates were not prepared for Nocino. TheSpeakPodcast guys also sampled the Nocino and had this to say:
“This is like drinking vodka that someone steeped in cedar for a while.” – Rob
“In this case, it is a little reminiscent of Jaeger in that Jaeger is not only black licorice, but it has a real heavy earthy taste to it. And this one is much the same. You do get a decent amount of walnuts, the problem is you get a decent amount of walnuts with almost like a cough syrup-like aftertaste.” – Rob
“I find it different than Jaeger. It’s a touch sweeter and has a different after taste…but if you like Jaeger it’s worth a shot.” – Pete
The Walnut Nocino is one you should try before you buy a bottle of it. You can try it yourself at Cardinal Spirits distillery and pick up the 375mL bottle for $28.