Exploring Barrel Aging with Classic Cocktails

By Marcus Reidy

The finished product

The finished product

Due to the fire we had last summer, I found myself out of regular bartending work for 3 ½ months. I decided to use this time to my advantage and test some new mixology projects that I thought would work well for our reopening. Most of the cocktails on our current menu are a result of that 3 1/2 month experimentation period. The “6.28,” for example, is named after the date of that June blaze, and features a house-made syrup infused with smoked tea.
Amongst all of my ideas for the new recipes, the one thing I was most excited ti attempt was a barrel aged cocktail. This notion was inspired by a trip I took to Portland at the beginning of the summer. Though I had heard of barrel aged cocktails before, and had even enjoyed a few here in our own city, I was eager to try one made by the man who really helped popularize the concept. He is Jeffrey Morgenthaler of the bar Clyde Common. Upon tasting his barrel aged Negroni, I knew that I wanted to implement this technique at our restaurant. Typically a beautiful, bittersweet cocktail, his barrel aged Negroni presents a more rounded fusion of bitter and sweet, and a rich, burnt orange flavor.
Unfortunately, the day I came back home from my west coast trip was the very same day of our fire. But perhaps this was a blessing in some ways. This gave me 3 ½ months to come up with the perfect cocktail for my barrel aging endeavor. I knew immediately that I wanted it to be a whiskey cocktail, strictly for selfish reasons. Next, I wanted it to involve sweet vermouth. The slight oxidation of vermouth seems to add richness to a drink. Finally, it had to be an “all booze” cocktail; aging anything with juice isn’t a good idea. After extensive research, I decided on an old New Orleans classic, the Vieux Carre. This cocktail comprises equal parts Templeton Rye, Carpano-Antica sweet vermouth, E&J brandy, a splash of Benedictine, and a dash each of Peychaud and Angostura bitters. All ingredients are stirred gently and served over one large, slow-melting ice cube. It’s a tasty, sweet, and boozy cocktail, with a slightly bitter fullness.
About three weeks ago, after acquiring a used Templeton Rye barrel, I began to age the Vieux Carre. I added all the booze ingredients, minus the bitters, undiluted to the barrel. Then I sealed it and let it sit. After 2 ½ weeks I decided we should pull our first batch and test it. In just this brief aging period, a drastic change had occurred. The charred oak of the barrel imparted vanilla and caramel notes to the Carpano-Antica and Templeton Rye, and yielded a prevalent burnt orange character. These emerging aromatic flavors softened the bite of the alcohol. Even non-diluted, this aged version is mellow, rich, and smooth. Adding the bitters to order creates a wonderfully full-flavored, dangerously sippable cocktail that I hope you will come in and enjoy while supplies last!
Unassuming deliciousness in a barrel await.

Unassuming deliciousness in a barrel await.