I pretty much scoffed at barrel aged cocktails, or even the thought of having a seasonal cocktail pre-mixed and stored in a decanter. It took an evening at The Office (under the Aviary) to sway my decision. The Office is sort of like the nicest basement you’ve ever been to. Dimly lit, leather arm chairs, and a compact (but amazingly efficient) bar. The unseen asset being the genius of the molecular gastronomist upstairs. Did I happen to mention they serve great cocktails with vintage bottle pours and as you guessed barrel aged cocktails. The 28 month barrel aged vieux carre would be the cocktail that would reverse my thinking.
Chicago is home to a number of great distilleries. About a week of persistent calls, voicemails and a handful of cold leads eventually yielded a beautiful 5 gallon barrel which housed FEW spirits bourbon. The brewing / distilling community here in Chicago is both welcoming and supportive. They are more than willingly to lend some advice.
Having safely secured my barrel, on to the next step. As it turns out, I’d need to purchase about 25 bottles of .750 ml liquor in order to fill this barrel up to the brim. Poor planning on my part. I was seeking advice from home-brew folk who were concerned with oxidization. So in order to fill the barrel, I considered reaching out to a small contingency of like minded enthusiast.Talked to the neighborhood bar to see if they were interested in doing a 90/10 split. Ultimately decided to purchase a more modest 3 liter barrel from the internet. I’d lose some Chicago authenticity, but would gain some experience with less monetary investment. I still have plans for my 5 gallon Few barrel. Oxidation isn’t much of an issue so long as you are using spirits or the majority of your ingredient are spirits.
Went into my play book for the inaugural barrel aged cocktail. I obtained the recipe for a black manhattan from the bar at Nico Osteria in the Thompson Hotel some time ago. It’s one of my favorite drinks with a complex profile and includes an amaro as part of the ratio. Prior to mixing and pouring, I filled the barrel with the boiling water for about an hour to ensure the barrel would swell and hold the cocktail. Let’s get to the brass tax:
Barrel Aged Black Manhattan
2 liter rye (bulliet)
1 liter amaro averna
1.5 oz bitters angostura
Nico Osteria has a slightly different ratio. I upped the amaro content for the classic 2:1 ratio to keep it simple. Poured all of the ingredient into the barrel and let everything sit for about two weeks before I started tasting. The initial taste had a woody, almost balsa tone. A few days later the flavor had matured. The amount of time it took to do so, really surprised me. You have to stay on top of the tasting after about two weeks.
32 Days would be the right time for me. So I bottled and corked. The wood taste would fade and the flavors would mellow. It has a profile which is sweet and almost akin to a cognac.
The tail wags the dog. So I’ve serve the cocktail warm about 1.5 oz. in a tasting glass. However, a good 2 oz. in a rocks glass with an orange swarth works well too. I think it’s a genre best served neat.
Everything is better with a story. So I was happy to distribute the fruits of my labor, or patience rather. I kept a liter for myself, but partitions went to close friends and a good neighbor who lost his dog the day after corking. The barrel is currently holding a negroni concoction.