The new ‘Liquid Chefs’

A new breed of mixologists is veering from traditional drink recipes to create its own cocktails – just as its counterparts do in the kitchen. Our wine and spirits columnist Doug Paulding calls these experimenters the “Liquid Chefs.”

The drinks world is made up of essentially four groups — the beer drinkers; the wine lovers; spirits tasters, neat or on the rocks; and cocktail drinkers. Having been a bartender on Nantucket in the late 1970s and a writer and reviewer today, I professionally dabble in all of these categories. In each of these groupings, the options today are staggering. A well-stocked beer store will likely have hundreds, if not thousands, of labels, including micro brews many have never heard of. And it’s similar with wine options with wine regions worldwide offering up unique and indigenous grape varieties grown properly and vinified with skill to make an attractive and tasty wine. With the world of spirits, old, known houses of distillation are still making the products that made them famous but have also added flavors and barrel aging times as well as concepts to offer up fresh, new ideas. 

As a bartender, I used the “Mr. Boston Official Bartender’s Guide” as a recipe bible. Within a few weeks, I knew 90% of the drinks I was likely be called on to make. But every now and then I would have to open the guide and use it to measure out ingredients for someone’s unique request. My brother, Chris Paulding, was a bartender and then bar manager in a Park City, Utah, bar, pouring mostly draft beers and what he calls “and” drinks — gin and tonic, seven and seven, rum and coke, etc.  Then something seismic happened in the drinks industry. A group of charismatic, curious and innovative mixologists emerged, creating a new position I call “the Liquid Chef.” They search for fresh ingredients and new ideas, combine them, then taste and test their own concepts. I have tasted Manhattans that substituted Sandeman’s Port for the vermouth. These Liquid Chefs muddle fruit, herbs and spices to create cocktails that are brimming with locally sourced freshness and symbiotic flavors and textures.

Yesterday I got to e-meet via Zoom Francesca Nonino, a sixth-generation family member and aide-de- camp distiller of Nonino Grappa and L’Aperitivo Nonino, a lovely cocktail mixer. The Nonino distillery is in Percoto between the cities of Venice and Trieste in northeast Italy. She teamed up with Elliot Clarke to create a drink featuring L’Aperitivo Nonino and it didn’t disappoint. Clarke, known as the “Apartment Bartender” ( is that creative and charismatic Liquid Chef. His website is loaded with drink ingredients, concepts and recipes and is seasonally adjusted, focusing on the freshest ingredients. Elliot loves to communicate and will answer questions and help guide you on his website. 

L’Aperitivo Nonino is crafted from 100% natural ingredients. The base wine is made from fermented Concord grapes, which are then distilled. The family recipe of botanicals creates a soft and pleasant Chartreuse-like flavor and texture. At 42 proof, it can be used as a perfect party starter-guest welcome. The ingredients and some bartender tools arrived the previous day. The recipe is as follows:

  • 2 ounces L’Aperitivo Nonino
    Botanical Drink
  • ½ ounce fresh lemon juice
  • 1 muddled fig
  • 2 ounces sparkling wine

Slice the fig into quarters, add L’Aperitivo Nonino and lemon juice in a cocktail shaker and muddle up the fig to release flavors. Add ice to chill. Strain this into a stemmed glass with ice and top with sparkling wine. (We used Prosecco.) Garnish with a sprig of thyme, a slice of lemon and a slice of fig. 

It’s not a complicated recipe, but the flavors combine to create a delicious welcome drink. The figgy, fruity flavors are enhanced and carried by the lemon juice, creating a seamless blend of tastes and textures. Adding the sparkling wine is largely textural, and the mouthfeel fizziness creates a luscious flavor dance on the tongue. 

In Italy and all over Europe, these village botanical family recipes are easy to find — embracing virtually every flavor in the rainbow, from fresh fruit to dark licorice to brooding medicinal flavors. L’Aperitivo Nonino is vibrant and fresh and can be a start to many drink recipes. As with creative home cooking where you veer from a recipe to create your own, this recipe concept is only limited by your imagination. Dream big and experiment. 

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