We promised you in our write-up of Experimental Cocktail Bar (which fees like ages ago! Take us back to France!) that we were going to do some experimenting with cocktail aging. We haven’t forgotten. How could we? While the barrel-aged cocktail was a new experience for us at Experimental, it’s become quite the craze since then. Everyone seems to be doing it. We wanted to find out exactly what they’re doing and why; so we bought ourselves the cutest little 2L barrel.
Preparing the Barrel
The first thing we learned is that barrels take a little bit of conditioning themselves. Our barrel arrived to us dry, which, it turns out, means leaky. To help the staves expand to fill the gaps, we filled it with cold water for several days, and then with hot water for another day. The first couple of days, there was a little water seeping from the barrel, but by the end of the week, it was watertight.
Choosing a Drink
The next step was deciding what to age in the barrel. We learned that there are basically four rules:
- Choose young spirits: as you might imagine, the effect of the barrel is stronger on something like gin that has never touched a barrel than on whiskey that’s already spent several years in one;
- Favor fortified wines: the aging process has a particularly strong effect on vermouth, sherry, port, and the like. So, look for recipes with a good dose of one of them;
- Don’t add anything that spoils: you want to use drinks that are essentially entirely alcoholic. No juices or sugar or the like;
- Make it something you like: our little two liter barrel holds a bit more than two bottles of liquor. So, it’s important to fill it with something we won’t tire of quickly.
We chose a white negroni. It’s entirely alcoholic. It contains only young spirits. It’s two-thirds fortified wine. And we love it. As an extra bonus, being white, we thought it would show any changes in color more dramatically. For a little change of pace, we used gin’s older, maltier Dutch sister genever instead of gin. Also, we left out our usual Lillet Red wash, thinking the barrel would make its softening effect unnecessary.
Aging the Drink
After a little math (half liter is a little more than 2 cups), we mixed approximately 1.5 L of white negroni, leaving a bit of extra room for size discrepancies or measuring errors. We poured it into our barrels, and waited. But only for a week. It turns out that aging a cocktail doesn’t take very long, usually between two and four weeks, even shorter for a new barrel. You give it a little taste once a week, to see if you like what’s happened, and when you do you decant it into a bottle to slow the aging process. For us, it took three weeks before we felt it was ready.
Preparing for the Next Round
A barrel can’t sit empty, or it dries out and starts to leak again. So, ideally, you just add your next drink right into the empty barrel. Keep in mind as you choose your next drink that it will pick up some of the characteristics of the last one. Fun, huh?
If you need a little time to think, add water with some cheap vodka to the barrel. If it takes you more than a couple of weeks, change the water.
Our next cask-rested drink is called a Jaguar: tequila, Chartreuse, amaro, and bitters.
Taste your Drink
We tasted ours side-by-side with a non-barreled version of the same drink. In the young cocktail, the genever, with its intense maltiness and herbs, took the center stage. It was a good drink, but most distinctly a genever one. The aged drink, on the other hand was smoother and more well-rounded, with the Cocchi Americano taking front stage. It’s a deliciously pleasant drink. We’ll happily drink all two bottles.
Genever White Negroni Recipe
- 1 oz genever
- 1 oz Cocchi Americano
- 1 oz dry vermouth
- Combine the three ingredients in a mixing glass.
- Fill with ice to the level of the liquid.
- Stir until the ice is noticeably melted.
- Strain into a cocktail glass.
- Mix 2 cups of each ingredient together in a big pitcher.
- Pour into a 2L barrel.
- Wait for three weeks.
- Pour three ounces of the aged cocktail into a mixing glass.
- Stir with ice, and strain into a cocktail glass.