Barrel-Aging Cocktails

Great results. A question, how many times can you re-use the barrels?

You can re char the barrels when they begin to mellow out.

How do you re char a 1 litre barrel?

Hey Denise,

Apparently, you can reuse them 3-5 times. If they are used back-to-back, they just need to be rinsed. If you wait a little while, they need to be sanitized. Makes sense. 5 times is 10 liters of drink. Spreads the cost over a lot of booze 🙂

Thanks for the advice! I want to try this myself, but here in Germany the barrels are a bit expensive. That’s why I am planning on buying only one barrel. Would you suggest starting with the Manhattan or the Negroni? Obviously those two are the ones I want to try first, too.

I think I would do the Manhattans, if you enjoy them anyway. The rich taste of the aged product enhanced the drink and the whole experience. The Negronis are great, and if you like the bitter taste of Campari, the aged version is quite good. Still the aged Negroni doesn’t mellow the Campari as much as it does the sweet vermouth in the Manhattan.

Please post again when you’ve tried your aged drinks. We’d love to hear about your experience!

Ok thanks, I will definitely let you know how it turns out! Now I am just wondering if it is really necessary to “age” some bourbon in the new barrels first. Shouldn’t the new wood just give up the flavors more quickly?

I’m sure you would still get some of he same effect, but you need to seal the barrel anyway (although the water treatment should do most of that) and it only takes an additional week. You can try it without the initial Bourbon aging, of course, but you’ll never know if you missed anything. Unless you need it for a specific date – soon – it’s probably not worth skipping the step.

Your Negroni is perfect. If you guys like Negronis and Manhattans, then you will love the aged Boulevardier. I prefer to age mine around 3 months…I don’t agree that the returns are diminished after 1 month as I have noticed even more mellowing after two and then three months respectively. I include the bitters in the barrel and have had positive results. Also, try using the barrel without cleaning between cocktails…it imparts an interesting subtlty to the next batch (think of a seasoned Wok). Finally, I have found that beer growlers make great vessels to store your cocktail when emptied from the barrel. Great article!

Thanks, Keith. The growler idea is excellent. I love Boulevardiers, but have never had an aged one. I just bought a new, better, larger barrel. It’s not seasoned yet and may wait til the fall, but I’m thinking of going for aged Boulevardiers, as you suggest. What size barrel do you use? While I’m no expert, apparently, smaller barrels age significantly faster. I used a pretty small barrel for this round of aging.

Thanks for the comment!

After your first trial with aging the bourbon: Did you use this aged bourbon you created, in the recipe for your barrel cocktail? Or did you purchase additional bourbon?

If you didn’t use your aged bourbon. How do you think that would turn out?

Thanks for the great article!

Jenee, oh yes, I used the Bourbon I used to prep the barrel. It was smokier and a bit smoother than the stuff out of the bottle. Interesting, but probably not worthy of special attention. In other words, I would mix up some cocktails with it, but they are fundamentally different from those cocktails with new spirits. Once the barrel is “aged,” though, you start to taste the real difference.

Does that answer your question?

Thanks for reading and commenting!

Thanks for putting this up. Curious about why there would be a 3-5 use lifespan on the barrels?

My first go round was a Sazerac with 50/50 blend of Conjure Cognac and Redemption Rye. I also mellowed some vodka with peaches, rosemary and cinnamon. Between those two batches I fortified a friend’s wild mustang grape wine with some TX Whiskey to create a port. Since my next batch will be round 4, I am interested in the 3-5 use limit.

Luckily, I have two new barrels to work with. I just started a batch of Negroni’s using a 50/50 mixture of Tequila/Mezcal in one. I will be doing a traditional Manhattan in the other.

A couple of quick notes

1. You are right that smaller batches will age quicker. It is because there is more liquid in contact with the surface of the barrel.

2. You’ve got a typo in your measurements
1-1/2 liters (1500 ml) of Bourbon
1/2 liter (1500 ml) of Sweet Vermouth
The vermouth should be 500ml not 1500.


Tim, thanks for your thoughtful comments! Especially for pointing out the typo. Thousands of people have hit this post and you’re the first one to point it out.

Our experience (and others with posts on the web) is that the small, thin barrels get subtler over time. They absorb the spirits and lose some of the oaky character that they once produced. There is nothing wrong with using them, assuming you clean them after 3(-ish) uses, but they won’t provide the same effect.

Please report back on the barrel aged Saz. That’s a terrific idea!

The Sazerac was great. I used aged only the bitters and the rye/cognac blend. I let it go for about 4-6 weeks because I just pulled from it. I have heard of people adding the absinthe but I was worried it would be too much. I used a mister bottle and Marilyn Manson’s Absinthe, which worked well.

I am going to grab a 1.5 liter to get the Manhattan’s going. I had been thinking of using Booker’s 140 but the cost was going to be somewhat prohibitive. I think I will use Old Overholt but if you have a suggestion then I am open.

I currently have some Becherovka infusing with apples and pears. I also have some TX that I infused with tamarind that makes a good Whiskey Sour.


I’ll have to try the Saz. I just made my first one in a while the other night. Without aging, of course. Man, I like those.

Old Overholt is fine, IMO, but if you could push to Bulleit, I don’t think you’d regret it. It’s come down in price.

The Becherova sounds interesting. I find it overwhelming in most drinks. Fruit infusion might make it more broadly useable. Again, I’
D appreciate if you’d report back on how that works out.

Merry Christmas! How do you store the aged cocktail once you remove it from the barrel? Any concerns with the vermouth going bad?


I think that the vermouth will be fine bathed in Bourbon. I’ve kept the mixture unrefrigerated for months in Mason jars with no problem and no change in taste. As usual, I’d keep the top tightly sealed.

Great post and info! So I just completed my first batch- Manhattans- and it turned out great! I was wondering what I should do with the barrel before I begin my next aging session. I am planning on starting the next batch in a couple days. Also, neophyte question here, but should sweet vermouth be refrigerated? Thanks!

Hey Seth, congrats on your first round of barrel-aged Manhattans! A great go-to cocktail. I always keep a Mason jar or two of it around now.

If you’re just moving onto your second batch right away, you may want to do a light rinse of the barrel to get rid of any crud that’s collected. That is, just a little water splashed around the innards of the barrel and drained immediately. That’s it – you’re ready to go. If you let the barrel dry, I’m told that a more thorough cleaning to sanitize it is necessary. Keep in mind that if the barrel has dried even a little, gaps may open up that need to be resealed by keeping the barrel moist for a bit again.

On sweet/Italian vermouth. Yes, it should be refrigerated. Vermouth is a fortified wine. As such, it will oxidize when exposed to air. Not as much as non-fortified wine, of course, but it still goes downhill. The taste of sweet vermouth doesn’t change as much as dry vermouth, but it does change enough that you’ll notice it in your recipes. Even refrigerated, it won’t last forever, but it will last a lot longer.

Thanks. Another question: you mentioned that you turn the barrel a quarter turn every week during aging. I’ve read conflicting info saying to not position the barrel so the bung is below the “water line.” Thoughts? Also, what is the typcial shelf-life of a finished batch once I put it in a decanter? Thanks again in advance.

Hey Seth, sorry for the delay. I never had trouble with the whiskey leaking from the bung hole, which is why you wouldn’t do it. If the stopper is natural, like cork, it will expand nicely once it gets wet and should hold pretty well. If you’re uncomfortable with that, which would be understandable, I would rotate it to 1 o’clock, then 2 o’clock, then back to 1, 12, 11, 10, 11, 12 . . . You get the idea. The bung will be below the water line for sure, but there will hardly be any pressure on it.

On the shelf life. It’s a long time. I kept one mason jar of the decanted drink for months without any change in taste. For aged spirits that have fruit in them, I think they should be refrigerated, but even the vermouth, which is already a fortified wine, will become even more fortified in all that bourbon. It’s pretty stable.

Enjoy for a long time 🙂

Hi Will, after the aging process when I shfited it to a glass bottle do I need to put it in a fridge?

No, although you always can, of course. For some infusions, like our Pineapple-Vanilla Infused Tequila, I find that they change color a bit over time if not refrigerated. I’ll often keep fruit infusions refrigerated, although I don’t think there is a reason (other than color) to do so. In fact, our Fig Infused Bourbon is way better at room temperature than chilled.

How long does the Manhattan keep once it’s in the mason jar?
I’m thinking about using several batches to fill up mini bottles to hand out as a wedding favor. Obviously would need some serious lead time for multiple batches to age!

You’re good to go, Alecia. They’ll keep for months. What a great idea! Have fun with it.

How long you can keep Manhattans in a 2 liter oak barrel?

Poncho, I used a 2-liter barrel for the drinks in this post. I’d suggest about a month. Generally speaking, the larger the barrel, the longer the aging. Small barrels accelerate the aging process.

Just got my first barrel and filled it with Negroni. Thank you for all the great advice. Much appreciated. Question for you – have you tried turning a blanco tequila into a reposado or Anejo? Any thoughts on doing this. I was wondering what I should have in the barrel before trying this. And, what would I do after removing the tequila. Any ideas or advice would be very welcome. Thank you! …joel

Joel, while I’ve never done this myself, I have read a bit about it. While you can use a new barrel, most reposados are aged in older barrels previously used to age whiskey. You may want to make a pass at that too. American oak is also preferred over French oak. Also, keep in mind that the smaller barrel ages much faster – 8-10 times faster than a 50-60L standard barrel.

You can’t turn crappy blanco into great reposado, so start with a decent blanco. I’d say a week or two in a whiskey-primed American oak small barrel would be worthy of a first tasting.

Please report back when/if you do it!

Thank you for your help on this. So maybe after the Negroni, I’ll age some bourbon. Then try the tequila. That sounds like a pretty good plan. Will report back on the progress, but will be a few months before the tequila, as I just started the Negroni. That said, it’s the first use, so maybe that will be done in a couple of weeks 🙂

Joel, the only thing I’d think about wrt using the negroni barrel is the Campari. You wouldn’t want that bitter taste to pass to the tequila. I’m not sure how much a cleaning afterwards will remove this. I’d try it anyway, but just be aware that this *could* be a problem . . . Of course, it could also be an advantage 🙂

I assume cleaning a barrel = rinsing with water. Is there anything else you’ve done to clean one? I wouldn’t want to clean too much, or perhaps it will lose the flavors in the oak. I hear you on the Campari. Could be a very cool bourbon though, if nothing more than to use in a Boulevardier. Will try this with Bulleit I believe.

I did a negroni with 1/2 tequila and 1/2 mezcal. It turns out beautiful with hints of smoke and leather. Great for summer but with fall coming you may want to hold off.

That said you could use the barrel for that

My husband bought me a barrel as a push present! We are so excited to try it out. Thank you so much for a wonderful and insightful article!

Hello! Quick dumb question: what liquor do/did you use to prep your barrel for Negronis?

Jen, great question. The barrels are always aged the same way. In our case, with bourbon. It’s not so much the flavor that gets transmitted to the drink in the barrel, but the oaky, smooth taste of the wood. Your negroni will not taste like bourbon, but will taste a bit earthier, if that makes sense. Gin wouldn’t cut it to age the oak.

H=Enjoy. Tell us how it works out!

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