Barrel-aged cocktails have been popping up on our radar all fall. Local liquor experts raved about the recipes small distilleries are bottling in our recent small batch booze round-up, and the extensive barrel-aged offerings at The Royal Palms inspired us to profile Tim Judge, the mastermind behind the bar’s cocktail program, last month.
You can buy them pre-mixed and ready to go from craft distilleries like High West and Fluid Dynamics–they generally come in beautiful little bottles that pour out two perfect drinks, great for holiday gifting. You can make these at home for gifts or to age a special batch of something that will wow guests at your holiday party or dinner, and you won’t be stuck behind the bar all night, since once your cocktail is aged you just chill accordingly, whether that’s a stir in a cocktail shaker or simply pouring it over ice.
First the basics. Barrel-aged cocktails are made by mixing large batches of your favorite drink and then storing them in an oak barrel for a few weeks to a few months. The flavors blend together more fully, and the oak mellows and rounds the edges of the liquor. The characteristic warm, vanilla and caramel notes you taste in whiskey, which is aged in much larger versions of the same types of barrels, are imparted to the cocktail. Unsurprisingly, whiskey-based cocktails, like a classic Manhattan or Old Fashioned work wonderfully, and Negronis and Boulevardiers (basically a Negroni but with bourbon or rye instead of gin) have become barrel-aged staples in bars. A lot of bartenders are also playing around with barrel-aging tequila and mezcal-based cocktails, building on the inherent honeyed smokiness of agave. You can age most any cocktail that doesn’t have a fruit juice component–they tend to oxidize or go off-flavor in unpleasant ways, and high-acid fruit like lemons and limes interact badly with the wooden barrels.
So what do you need? Booze, obviously, and a way to age it. Tuthilltown, an upstate distillery known for whiskey, sells 1L-versions of the barrels they use for $60. You can also buy 1-, 2- and 3L barrels on Amazon for about $60-120. Keep in mind that when you receive your barrel you’ll need to condition it–fill it with water for about a week, so that the wood swells and becomes watertight.