Entrepreneur. Cocktail and spirit champion. Old world wine provocateur.
The holidays are behind us and some sense of normalcy has returned. It was really nice of you to think of others for the last two months. I’m sure you enjoyed the selfless act of giving, getting to spend time with family, and the general merriment surrounding the end of the year.
But now it’s back to reality. Time to do something nice for yourself again.
Since you’re reading this, you probably like making cocktails. Or are thinking about making cocktails. Or at least like the idea of cocktails. Well, lately, everyone seems to be talking about barrel aging drinks. There is nothing in the world like a 4 month barrel aged manhattan, apparently. The trend was started by Jeffrey Morgenthaler, a bartender in Portland, Oregon. His original post generated a lot of buzz and excitement that was quickly parlayed into articles in the New York Times, Time Magazine, The New York Times again, Time Out New York, and many other well regarded publications.
The general principle here is that glass bottles, where spirits are typically stored, are intentionally inert. They don’t give or take, there is no transfer of flavors or colors, there is no reaction at all. Wood (particularly oak) has for a long time been made into barrels in order to store beverages. Until recently, most barrels held wine, individual spirits, and occasionally beer. Oak transfers flavors – notably toastiness, caramel, vanilla, sweetness, and depth – to the liquid it holds. And that’s the idea. Add complexity and flavor. Have patience. Simple right?
The general consensus on how best to age cocktails is to stick to liquor only concoctions. Manhattans, martinis, negronis, etc. Something like a margarita is going to result in spoiled lime juice, spawning some sort of west nile virus or ebola outbreak. So don’t go there. Five to six weeks seems to be the right amount of time where you can pick up flavors from the oak without overpowering the cocktail and adding unnecessary bitterness.
So get out there and start aging! Let’s make this thing really take off.
As for me, I have my first barrel aged cocktails in the early stages of development right now. I’ve ordered barrels from Tuthilltown Spirits in New York and am devising a plan to make three gallon size batches. As they work wonderfully or fail miserably, rest assured that you’ll be the first to know.