Note: This is the second part of a series on aging cocktails in oak barrels. You can find the first part here.
A few months ago, I started the process of aging cocktails in barrels. That’s not just the spirits themselves, but the entire mixed cocktail. Let me just cut to the conclusion here – it’s totally worth it. The drinks you create are mellow, rich and smooth with a very, very slight smokey taste. Did I mention that they are smooth? Think Barry White’s voice. Yeah, that kinda smooth. I learned a lot along the way and while my first batch turned out great, the next batch should be even better. Hopefully, I can walk you through some of the things I’ve learned so that your first batch can be perfect in less time than it took me.
The process has several steps. First, you have to get a barrel. I got two. You can get these from Amazon or from other sites on the web. I got one of mine from Oak Barrels, Ltd (where else, right? Consumatorium has no affiliation with them). First the barrels were cleaned, then I aged bourbon in the casks for six weeks to season them. I learned when I finished that you can do it faster. You can find the whole story, including what I else learned about barrel preparation and aging bourbon in my post here.
I had decided ahead of time that I wanted to age Negronis (is that the plural of Negroni?) and Manhattans. I thought this would be a good test because Negronis are gin-based, of course, and Manhattans are bourbon/rye-based. I thought it would be interesting to see how the aging affected each base spirit. Filling up two, 2-liter barrels takes a lot of alcohol and required a trip to the liquor store and some math in preparation.
The recipe I used for the barrel-o-Manhattan was:
- 2-1/4 parts Bourbon (I used Bulleit)
- 3/4 part Sweet Vermouth (I used Carpano Antica)
I held back the bitters to be added later during the serving of the cocktail. This was a personal choice, there is no reason you can’t add the appropriate amount of Angostura bitters prior to aging.
So, for a 2-liter barrel, this means you need to have . . .
- 1-1/2 liters (1500 ml) of Bourbon
- 1/2 liter (1500 ml) of Sweet Vermouth
Doesn’t that work out nicely? Bet you’ve never used so much vermouth at one time. Or maybe ever.
For the Negroni, I chose to use the classic recipe rather than Dave’s Consumatorium one. Dave’s is better, but the classic seemed more appropriate here. Besides, my wife likes the classic recipe.
- 1 part Gin (I used Plymouth)
- 1 part Sweet Vermouth (I used Carpano Antica)
- 1 part Campari
Again, for a 2-liter barrel – the math isn’t quite as pretty this time . . .
- 2/3 liter (666 ml) Gin
- 2/3 liter (666 ml) Sweet Vermouth
- 2/3 liter (666 ml) Campari
That’s it. Oh, don’t forget a funnel. Apparently I had used my only funnel to fill my lawn mower with oil. Yes, I went out and got a new one. Pour all of the ingredients of each drink into its respective barrel. No pre-mixing is required. Make sure the spout is OFF prior to filling. I didn’t make this mistake, but, apparently, many people do.
After the filling was complete, I made sure the bung (yup, that’s what it’s called), the stopper at the top of the barrel, was tightly secured and I gave the barrel a good shake to combine the ingredients. Keep the barrels in a cool place that’s not too dry. You don’t want them to dry out from the outside too much, less they spring a leak. The waiting process then begins.
I had decided that I was going to age the drinks for two months. I rotated the barrels 90-degrees every week or so to expose as much of the liquid to the inside of the barrel as possible. Apparently, the alcohol evaporates through the walls of the barrel (it’s referred to as the Angel’s Share). Some people top off the spirits inside. While I noticed the decrease in volume, It wasn’t so much that I felt compelled to add more booze.
On my next round of aged cocktails, I’m going to cut the aging time to only a month. Many people report that there are diminishing returns after that time with a 2-liter barrel.
After two months, I decanted the elixir into Mason jars. Well, not before excitedly trying some of each – excellent! You could, obviously, keep the cocktails in the barrels, but they would continue aging. After my experience with aging the seasoning bourbon and having tasted how great the cocktails were, I wanted to stop the aging. Thus, the jars.
Once in jars, serving up great, aged cocktails is a snap. Just pour into a shaker with ice, chill and dispense in a cocktail glass. For the Manhattan, I add a few dashes of Angostura bitters to the preparation. Throw in an orange peel to garnish the Negronis and cherries for the Manhattans. As I said earlier, the taste of each is smooth and rich. No harshness at all from the Gin or Bourbon. Just a nice drink.
In fact, now that I have a couple of liters of each, I’m having trouble motivating myself to make anything else. The drinks taste great and are super easy to prepare and serve. I am definitely going to keep some aged cocktails on hand all the time and just add them to the bar.