What are the best barrel-aged cocktails, how long should you age them, and which barrels are best for barrel-aging cocktails?
The best barrel-aged cocktails really add another dimension to your favorite cocktails. Why bother with barrel-aging cocktails? Well, the flavors and aromas that cocktails draw from contact with wooden barrels really intensifies everything about them.
Barrel-aging cocktails is a skill that has to be learned, but once you know a few basic rules it will take your cocktail-making skills to the next level, whether you're a professional mixologist or a home bartender.
What Are the Best Barrel-Aged Cocktails?
You can't simply pour any cocktail into a barrel and hope for good results, though. An obvious example is a cocktail that uses fresh fruit juice, like a Tequila Sunrise. The juice will probably go off before there's been any noticeable change in the flavor of the cocktail. Likewise tonic water, which will go flat in the barrel.
You should also avoid cocktails that use sweet liqueurs, or other sweet ingredients. The more sugar you put in the barrel, the easier it is for bacteria to develop. Avoid honey, too, which will crystalize. If your cocktail recipe needs some sweetness, you might be able to get away with maple syrup, if you don't age it for too long.
Making a Barrel-Aged Manhattan
The best barrel-aged cocktails are those that rely heavily on the spirit itself. A good cocktail to try as your first barrel-aged cocktail is the Manhattan. This uses whiskey (usually rye), vermouth, and bitters. Don't use an expensive whiskey to begin with, either. Use cheaper brands until you've perfected the process.
You do have to be careful using bitters, as they can start to take over if left too long. You can always barrel-age the whiskey and vermouth, and then add the bitters to each glass afterwards, as normal.
5 parts rye whiskey
2 parts sweet red vermouth
Dash of Angostura bitters for each single cocktail measure
Making a Barrel-Aged Negroni
A Negroni is also a good candidate for barrel-aging, consisting as it does of gin, vermouth, and Campari. Remember that Campari is a bitters, so don't let it dominate the taste as it ages.
3 parts gin
3 parts sweet red vermouth
3 parts Campari
Making a Barrel-Aged Boulevardier
A Boulevardier is basically a Negroni but with a different ratio of ingredients and usually rye whiskey or bourbon instead of gin. Remember to take care with the Campari.
1.5 parts whiskey
1 part sweet red vermouth
1 part Campari
Making a Barrel-Aged Martini
A simple Martini can be really enhanced by barrel-aging, and will have your friends or customers saying 'This is an amazing Martini! How did you do that?'
6 parts gin
1 part dry vermouth
Which Barrels Are Best for Barrel-Aged Cocktails?
When it comes to barrel-aging cocktails at home or in the commercial bar, smaller barrels are better. There are two main reasons for this. One is that the smaller the barrel, the more the cocktail comes in contact with the wood, and the quicker the process takes. For a commercial bar this means a faster turnover.
The other reason is that you are inevitably experimenting at first, and if anything goes badly wrong, you don't want to waste too much good alcohol. The ideal barrels for aging cocktails are from 1-3 liters, with 2 liters probably being the optimum size.
The best barrels for aging cocktails are American oak barrels, which have had a light char. Charring means more flavors being drawn from the barrel and into the cocktail. One point to remember is that with each aging process you are extracting flavors from the wood. If your first batch reaches perfection in three weeks, your next batch of the same cocktail may take a few days longer.
Where Should You Keep Your Barrel?
Small barrels that are aging cocktails do look really good whether in a commercial bar or in a home bar, but you should ideally store them out of the light. Extreme changes in heat and humidity will also detract from the end result. If you have a cellar or a basement, use it. There's a reason distilleries and wineries store their precious stocks in cellars!
How Long Should You Barrel-Age a Cocktail?
There's no definitive answer as it depends what you're aging, how big a barrel you're using, and what your own taste preferences are. However, you're probably looking at anything from 1-4 weeks, perhaps even longer. You shouldn't disturb the barrel too often, so check on progress by tasting the cocktail about once a week.
What you should do, when you make up your big batch of the cocktail, is to make more than will fit in your barrel. You should keep an unaged batch standing by as a kind of control group, so that you can taste the unaged and the aged versions side-by-side to note the difference.
This pretty much tells you what the best barrel-aged cocktails are, and how to go about making them. Cheers!
by Mike Gerrard