Something Old, Something New: Barrel-Aged Cocktails

By on Wednesday, December 29th, 2010


Whiskey gets its color and some of its flavor from barrel-aging. So do most amber spirits. Then, neat-freaks aside, it’s mixed with other fresh ingredients to create a cocktail. It took someone like Portland, Oregon mixologist Jeffrey Morgenthaler to ask: What if the cocktail was put together and then the whole shebang was funneled into an oak cask? What would THAT taste like?

Roll Out the Barrels

With the deftness of a brilliant mixologist and the intrepid curiosity of a toddler, Morgenthaler poured a gigantic Manhattan–rye, sweet vermouth, and Angostura bitters–into a barrel and gave himself a taste every couple of weeks until…success.

While Morgenthaler is not the first to age entire cocktails, according to a NYT blog post by mixologist-journalist Toby Cecchini as well as a recent New York Times article, he opted for oak barrels over glass vessels to go straight for big flavor. “The rub of aging cocktails in a glass vessel is that the whole premise is built upon subtlety,” Morgenthaler writes in his blog. “Being from the United States, where – as everyone is aware – bigger equals better, I pondered the following question: What if you could prepare a large batch of a single, spirit-driven cocktail and age it in a used oak barrel?”

The answer is…it would be good. Really good. To some.

Not everyone is a fan of the taste. Descriptions range from “subtle and nuanced” from austin360‘s Emma Janzen to “cloudy, indistinct and slightly bitter,” according to David Hammond, an Oak Park, IL blogger who ordered a barrel-aged martini at Alinea. Still, Hammond admits the drink stayed in his mind for several days–and thus, “it was successful in some way.”

Written by Erika Kotite

Erika Kotite is an editor, writer and owner of Toque.

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