How To Barrel-Age a Cocktail. It’s Easy
on 30/07/11 at 12:02 pmSpirits
The barrel is a beautiful thing. It’s an object that’s etched into our boozy subconscious—an old-timey icon for fine drink that’s almost primal. It’s pre–frothy beer mug, pre–martini glass, pre–mustachioed bartender. Yet you rarely encounter one outside of a distillery tour. That is, until the craft-cocktail set started to re-purpose the barrels for aging their own drinks. Jeffrey Morgenthaler, head bartender at Clyde Common in Portland, Ore., was one of the first to do it, inspiring bartenders around the globe to experiment. And Tuthilltown Distilleries in Gardiner, N.Y., has kept the trend alive—it started off aging its whiskey in custom-made 2½-gallon vessels years ago because of the ability of those unusually small barrels to age spirits more quickly. Although larger ones are more cost effective, the distillers continue to use smaller barrels, partly because of the unique flavor they produce, but also because of the demand from drink geeks.
While the afterlives of large American whiskey barrels are well established—they are often sold to rum and Scotch distilleries—Tuthilltown has started a homegrown micro-economy for its small-scale barrels. (By law, most American whiskeys must be aged in new barrels.) They have been used to age soy sauce at New York restaurant Momofuku as well as maple syrups and vinegars from Noble Handcrafted, but Gable Erenzo, Tuthilltown’s brand ambassador, says that barrel-aging bartenders have been the most steady outlet.
And once you’ve tasted a barrel-aged cocktail, you’ll see why. I’ve had a Negroni and a White Manhattan (pictured) sitting in a corner for the past couple of weeks, and I’m glad I threw out that box of comics to make space for them: they are phenomenal.