Barrel ageing is a vast unknown galaxy. All we know are the names of a few planets, and a star or two. There’s so much more to explore. Even though there is no barrel-aging bible out there yet, here we offer a few simple steps to follow when taking on the ageing journey.
The ageing pioneer, Tony Conigliaro started the trend and wrote the proverbial book on ageing cocktails in glass. His experiments with manhattans showed that as the vermouth oxidised, the drink improved.
Across the Atlantic, Jeff Morgenthaler added wood to the equation. If you haven’t read Jeff’s blog, you really should. The result? Within a few months everybody is barrel aging everything and Philip Duff is making history hilarious online.
So again, why do we age a drink? “In a good barrel aged cocktail, you can still taste the drink, but it’s more integrated, with vanilla and caramel” says Jeff. The cool thing about is to see how there is a fine line between adding character, and screwing some very valuable booze.
Still there is no right or wrong, only what we have learnt to this point. Here’s our 1 to 6 of getting wood.
1- First off, source your wood. I’ve done my first few batches with uncharred new oak 5lt barrels but here some more info and useful links on where to buy some goodies. Different sizes and char levels too. Smaller barrels will age the drink faster
www.tuthilltown.gostorego.com/barrels (check out the aging kit!!!)
2- Prime the thing. Fill it up with warm water to help the wood expand, swell and close those little cracks in the dry wood. Play around with priming with different things too e.g. sherry, port, wine, spirits etc
3- Batch it. Taste it. If you’re happy with it funnel it in. This might sound like very basic common sense, but let me assure you that if you start with a bad mixture, nothing good is ever going to come out of that barrel.
4- Time, time, time. Taste, taste, taste. Try twice a week. Every barrel, every batch, every experiment will lead to different outcome.
Tip: Leave a little in there, to see what the extra time would have done to the mix. You can always add the bottled cocktail back to the barrel.
5- Serve. We’re talking delicate beauties here. Get your nicest mixing glass, your sexy spoon and best ice in the known universe. Stir it down like you’re making a cocktail for the queen
6- DO’s Don’ts and that 6 week old Daiquiri.
We are a few weeks into our amazing classic daiquiri. “illegal!” my mind shouts every time I see the words together – AGING and LIME. The trick is to clarify the juices from the solids. Use muslin first and coffee filters for a very fine strain. A few bartenders are playing around centrifuges – Click here for a great article on Tona Palomino in NYC.
- Use a nice strong base spirit. I recently made a RARE BREED BOULEVARDIER in a PX seasoned 5lt and it came out extremely rounded and mellow just after over 10 days!
- Age spirits, liqueurs, fortified wines (I suggest to go easy on the overly sugary stuff)
- Prime the barrel well
- Taste all the time
- Put your mix into a dry un-primed barrel.
- Leave your barrel empty for longer than a couple of days, it will crack. If u are short of booze or batched cocktail just put water in it, but remember to change it every couple of days to avoid bacteria.
- Age dairy products, fruit pulps or fresh not perfectly clarified fruit juices.
- “forget about it” or you’ll end up with bit of liquid oak.
What’s next? Play, taste, experiment, learn and please share your results with us. Discuss how gin, rum and tequila drinks will benefit from resting in an old whiskey barrel or how a whisky cocktail will improve with a Sherry or Port finish. Imagine a Negroni finished Speyside malt or a Manhattan finished Japanese whisky.
Keep posting, keep us updated. We can’t wait to taste your delicious concoctions!