It’s no longer unusual for bars to barrel-age cocktails. The small barrel has become a fixture on many a back bar. But one tends to see the same spirit-forward cocktails over and over again: Manhattans, Negronis, sometimes a Trident if we’re lucky.
A new book, The Bar Cart Bible, includes a section on DIY aging of cocktails in barrels, including quite a few drinks rarely seen resting on oak, like the Black Russian or the low-alcohol Chrysanthemum. Start with a one-liter barrel, the book advises, and expect to wait roughly six weeks for that drink.
1. Rinse out the barrel with water. Fill the barrel with water, soaking it long enough so that the wood swells. Be sure to check for any leaks. Pour out the water. Allow the barrel to dry.
2. Funnel the ingredients into the barrel for aging. (See ideas on drinks to try below.)
3. Once a day, roll the barrel to mix the ingredients, and encourage access to all the wood surfaces inside the barrel.
4. Wait! For a one-liter barrel, the average aging time is six weeks, but you need to taste-test throughout the aging period to determine when to empty the contents of the barrel. “The goal is to avoid a woody cocktail taste,” advises the book.
5. When you’re pleased with the flavor, funnel the contents of the barrel into a sterilized glass bottle, and cap tightly.
5 Drinks to Try (Sized for a 1-Liter Barrel)
Barrel-Aged Black Russian 21 oz vodka 11 oz coffee liqueur
Barrel-Aged El Presidente 20 oz rum 5 oz orange curaçao
5 oz dry vermouth
1 oz grenadine
Barrel-Aged Last Word 11 oz gin 11 oz Luxardo maraschino liqueur
11 oz Green Chartreuse For an individual cocktail, add 3 oz barrel-aged mixture to 1 oz fresh lime juice, then shake with ice and strain into a cocktail glass.
Barrel-Aged Stinger 21 oz cognac 11 oz white crème de menthe
You can't really clean a barrel. It maintains its viability by having liquid inside it. Hot water, near boiling, will remove a lot of the flavors, but if you make something like a Stinger with creme de menthe, you'll never get rid of that flavor and will have to find another mint cocktail to follow it. Conversely, you can always use complementary flavors. You can rotate between barrel aging sazeracs, old fashioneds and manhattans until the bands rust through and fall off. And one suggestion, use boiling water to fill a new barrel until it swells tight and it should never leak.