This is the post that started it all: the genesis of Barrel Aged Cocktails.
Inspired by a visit last October to see Tony Conigliaro at the unnamed bar at 69 Colebrooke Row in London last fall, where Manhattans are aged in glass vessels to sublime and subtle effect, the barrel aged cocktails I’ve been serving at Clyde Common this year are a decidedly American curiosity.
The rub of aging cocktails in a glass bottle is that the whole premise is built upon subtlety, as we know that spirits aged in glass or steel do so at an unremarkable pace. 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?
A hundred some-odd dollars in liquor later, I was nervously pouring a gallon of pre-batched rye Manhattans into a small, used oak cask whose previous contents were a gallon Madeira wine. I plugged the barrel and sat back in anxious anticipation; if the experiment was a success I’d have a delicious cocktail to share at the bar – if it was a failure then I’d be pouring the restaurant’s money down the floor drain.
Over the next several weeks I popped open the barrel to test my little concoction until I stumbled upon the magic mark at five-to-six weeks. And there it was, lying beautifully on the the finish: a soft blend of oak, wine, caramel and char. That first batch sold out in a matter of days and I was left with a compelling need to push the process even further.
I’ve been ordering my used whiskey barrels from Tuthilltown Spirits in Gardiner, New York. They sell a three-gallon charred oak barrel that previously held their lovely whiskey, for around only $75.
Now, three gallons of Negroni might not be practical for the home enthusiast, but the average bar or restaurant should be able to afford that sort of quantity quite easily. For those of you trying this at home, try searching the internet for one-gallon charred oak casks (stay away from the fancy lacquered kind meant for display in dens and 1980s wine bars) and be sure to let us know what you find in the comments section below.
We procured a small number of used whiskey casks from the Tuthilltown distillery and proceeded to fill them with a large batch of Negronis; and that’s when the magic of barrel aged cocktails grabbed our attention. After six weeks in the bourbon barrel, our Negroni emerged a rare beauty. The sweet vermouth so slightly oxidized, the color paler and rosier than the original, the mid-palate softly mingled with whiskey, the finish long and lingering with oak tannins. We knew we were on to something unique and immediately made plans to take the cask aging program to the next level.
Negronis are now prepared in five-gallon batches and poured into multiple bourbon barrels. Robert Hess’ ubiquitous Trident cocktail is currently resting inside single-malt barrels. The El Presidente (à la Matt Robold), Deshlers, Remember the Maines, they’re all receiving the oaked treatment in a little storage room in the basement of the restaurant that I refer to as my “office”.
Once the cocktail is aged long enough for my taste, I then drain the bottle, straining out any charred bits of wood, and bottle the contents for use by my bartenders. To order, the cocktail is then measured out and poured over ice in a mixing glass, stirred, strained into a cocktail glass, and then garnished with the appropriate garnish. It’s quick and simple, as all of the real work has already been done by the barrel.
Anyway, on to the recipes. As simple as it seems to do, I figured not everyone is going to want to do the math to get started on some of these recipes, so here are a few I’ve figured out:
Makes Three Gallons
128 oz (approximately five 750ml bottles) dry gin
128 oz sweet vermouth
128 oz Campari
Stir ingredients together (without ice) and pour into a three-gallon oak barrel. Let rest for five to seven weeks and pour into glass bottles until ready to serve.
Makes Three Gallons
256 oz (approximately ten 750ml bottles) rye whiskey
128 oz (approximately five 750ml bottles) sweet vermouth
7 oz Angostura bitters
Stir ingredients together (without ice) and pour into a three-gallon oak barrel (I prefer a barrel that has previously stored sherry, Madeira, or port wine). Let rest for five to seven weeks and pour into glass bottles until ready to serve.
Makes Three Gallons
128 oz (approximately five 750ml bottles) aquavit
128 oz dry sherry
128 oz Cynar
7 oz peach bitters
Stir ingredients together (without ice) and pour into a three-gallon oak barrel (I prefer a used single malt barrel). Let rest for five to seven weeks and pour into glass bottles until ready to serve.
And be sure to check out this video of the barrel-aged cocktail process, courtesy of our friends Grant Achatz, Craig Schoettler and Josh Habiger at Alinea in Chicago:
Recipe printed courtesy of jeffreymorgenthaler.com
149 Replies to “Barrel Aged Cocktails”
On cleaning barrels after use, the people I purchased my barrel from recommend a solution of 2 tsp. of citric acid to 5 gal. of water, shaken in the barrel for 10 min. and then poured out…
I would like to ask you what is your opinion of using and old cask of Bordeaux instead of a brand new?
Thank you a lot for your time in advance.
I love that idea!
Thanks for an awesome post, Jeffrey!
Any idea of how long to age a Negroni in a brand new 10 Liter barrel? I’m thinking it will be at least six to seven weeks minimum, but would love to hear your thoughts as I won’t be able to check it every day (or week) due to travel constraints. I’m aging a drink for a buddy’s wedding, so don’t want to screw it up! 🙂 Thanks!
I’d suggest starting with a month and tasting it weekly from there on out.
Thanks for those suggestions, Christopher and Jeffrey. I’m going to pick up my barrel from Tuthilltown tomorrow so I’ll start the process soon.
Is there a limit to how long you can barrel age a cocktail like a Manhattan? Could you theoretically age it for 10+years?
I think I’m ready to give this a shot. I was also wondering if I should take a “virgin” oak barrel and age something in it first…before throwing in a batch of Negroni’s (or Boulevardier’s).
I was ALSO wondering about the quality of the spirits used to make say…a barrel aged Negroni. What gin have people been using…and what vermouth? I really love the Carpano Antica Formula vermouth, but its a little on the expensive side. Just wondering what others are using. Its such an investment in time I’d prefer to not screw up a batch because I cheaped out on booze. Yet I don’t want to over-spend either.
I aged a Vieux Carre in a 1 liter tuthilltown barrel. I transferred it to a mason jar and after rinsing thoroughly I aged a 1794. Now I want to get a Negroni rolling. Do we really need to clean between batches? The alcohol content is so high I can’t imagine anything growing in there.
I recently took a used barrel that had previously contained a Manhatten and aged a homebrewed belgian dubbel in it. I let the beer age for four months, then kegged it. It is the best beer I’ve ever made. Currently I have a Gose aging in Margarita barrels.
The poissibilities are endless.
After making barrel aged manhatten have you ever tried aging a different cocktails in the manhatten barrel like an old fashion to give it a unique finish or letting a cocktails age for 4 weeks in an ex-sherry barrel then finish it in an ex- port barrel , kind of in the same way they finish whisky
Quick question that was only partially answered here:
I purchased a NEW 2-liter oak barrel from tuthilltown.
I’d like to create a barrel-aged Manhattan.
Do I need to FIRST age a spirit in the barrel (after the water soak step?)?
and if so, *for how long*, and what spirit (or spirits) is/are best?
I keep googling but can’t find clear info on this, so I come here, to where it all began!
Vaughn ( @vplus )
I understand that putting fresh juices in with the cocktail during barrel aging may spoil and ruin the cocktail. I also know there are substitutes for juices in order to add acidic elements. But can you add the juice after the liquor components have been barrel aged? For example, a cocktail like the derby (version 1oz bourbon, 3/4 oz lime juice, 1/2 oz sweet vermouth, 1/2 oz grand marnier) would only have the bourbon, sweet vermouth, and grand marnier barrel aged together. When it is finished and ready to serve, then lime juice is added to the cocktail and shaken with ice. Could this be done and still have the barrel aged flavors present? Thanks for the help.
Jeffrey, I believe I saw you on Brew Dogs last night or one of those shows! I am new to the barrel aging. I find your site very creative and informative. I am getting my feet wet aging Glennfiddich in a dry sherry bottle with just a bit of vanilla extract! Who know. Glad I stumbled on your website. Feeling inspired!
I’ve made 3 batches of aged Manhattans over the previous 3 Christmas’ and this year want to do something different. I like the idea of making a batch of the El Presidente, but would you suggest getting a new barrel for this? Or could I use the previously used Manhattan barrel? Not sure how much residual flavor would carry over in the wood from Manhattans to El President. Thanks, Steve.
Steve – I would think using the Manhattan barrel would be delicious.
Lactart, an acid used as a flavoring agent, is likely your best option. I’ve enjoyed a barrel-aged Last Word that used it as a substitute for citrus at The Oakland in Ferndale, MI. Cheers!
Hey guys, I have been rocking these out for a while now but keen to step it up with making a sidecar. Can anyone tell me what way is best adding the citrus? Assuming to use a phosphate but haven’t made one before so any tips would be most appreciated.
On another note also looking at ageing a tequila for some margherita’s if anyone has tips for at too?
Hey Guys, just found this and am fascinated by the discussion. Jeff, I’m heading to PDX next week! and hope to stop by to say hello.
For barrel cleaning, burning a sulphur stick in the barrel is the tried and true method. A good rinse gets rid of residue. If you’re aging a high-proof spirit, not much worry about unwanted bacteria or yeast as long as you go from one batch to the next.
For oxidation, you really need to keep the barrel topped off to make up for evaporation. Once properly aged, you might want to store in glass. Air is your enemy. 12% wine ages nicely for ages in full barrels without oxidizing.
I have a small barrel that I use for aging rye, and I’m anxious to try Jeffrey’s manhattan recipe.
Jeff got some great info from your article. I manage a bar and have recently started to experiment with barrel aged cocktails. So far I made an amazing Manhattan and a very bitter negroni. I think I may have added to much Campari. The front end is amazing, while the back end is comparable to cough medicine! I let it age for 6 weeks… Any benefit to aging it longer? Can I age it with fruit of will it turn rancid from not being refrigerated…
Any help would be much appreciated
hi i was at your bar last summer and i had the barrel aged negroni. it was sooo goood that i decided to make some for myself… the result was very good but it is a bit too oaky… the one i had at your bar wasnt this oaky.. i am assuming the reason why is that i used a brand new barrel
what do you think ? do i do anything wrong ?
I got a great result aging boulevardier with the following recipe:
2 parts Rittenhouse Rye
1 part Dolin Rouge
1 part Campari
1 dash Regan’s Orange Bitters per serving
Aged 6 weeks in 28oz mason jars with a 2-inch light toasted oak spiral.
Serve over crushed or pellet ice with an orange peel twist.
I’ve been experimenting with aged cocktails, and just had my best result yet: aging the ‘El Presidente’ cocktail. I call it the ‘Elder Statesman’.
Not having access to huge quantities of liquor and barrels, I age my drinks in mason jars with oak infusion spirals. The results are great.
Details on the ‘Elder Statesman’ here: http://armyofrobots.tumblr.com/post/64687600165/the-elder-statesman
Nice blog. Two questions:
(1) For a manhattan, which vermouth do you recommend for aging with rye and Xocolat Mole bitters?
(2) For a boulevardier, which bourbon ages well without too much sweet corny flavor?
Jeff, I sent an email directly to you before I realized you had a running discussion going on here. I’ll throw this out for comments. In barrel aging cocktails with wood inside the glass, with air space. Is the disadvantage that the oxidation process is still slower even with air in the glass container.
Here is a piece I did on the relative cost of bitters that provides some measurements.
That being said is it a pretty straight conversion for the spirits as well?
wondering how you came up with the portions for bitters. This may have been addressed already but DANG there r a lot of comments. Anyways figuring 1oz is around 30ish dashes? I was thinking for 3ltrs of a drink that calls for one dash per drink you’re looking at 1oz per every 3ltrs. Should the amount be increased to compensate for the aging process? NERDS!
Come to Dallas!
On a recent trip to A winery in Lodi I noticed them cleaning barrels.
Simple process pour in boiling hot water cork and adjatate. (Shake) roll barrel several times.
The prowess looked fairly simple.
Cheshire Bar here in Rochester, New York will be serving Barrel Aged Manhattans that they made following your recipe February 27th, 2013 in our of their one year anniversary.
I look forward to checking out their results.
Saw your website and I IMMEDIATELY thought you should try this with a Boulevardier (2oz bourbon, 1oz campari, 1oz sweet vermouth) some people put a twist of lemon peel, but for me an orange peel is way better.
I Heard a character in the TV show “Person of Interest” order one. I researched it and am now addicted and have several friends hooked as well.
Following up on John’s question a few posts up – I just bought a small new charred oak cask. It seems the consensus is that I need to age another spirit or wine, etc in there before throwing my planned cocktail (manhattans) in there. Any advice on duration, etc. for a total rookie to this?
As an alternative, would mixing my manhattan with unaged whiskey and throwing everything in there initially work? Or should I age the whiskey separately, then latter add vermouth and bitters?
Any input would be appreciated. Thanks.
Love your work and site man!
I was wondering if you ever tried to work with oak chips instead of barrels??
Its cheaper and easier i think!?!
ps;keep up the good work!
Love your site and work man!
Was wondering if you ever tried to work with ”oak chips” to age your cocktails?
Its cheaper and easier?!?!
Hope there will be an updated soon.
Keep up the good work!
Just bottled and sampled 5 1/2 week barrel-aged Negroni……. Absolutely wonderful.Also tried the same timespan for Manhattans but not so sure ! Does the Rye used make a huge difference ? I used Rittenhouse and Red Martini Vermouth and am a little underwhelmed !
I’ve now done two batches of cocktails in my 2.something gallon “Mix Mash” Tuthilltown whiskey barrel.
First was a Negroni variant with akvavit, rather than gin. Loved the results at right at 8 weeks.
Second batch was a standard Negroni, and seems less smooth, and a touch woodier, so I didn’t want to let it age too much longer and pick up too much more wood.
Do I need to “condition” my cask, so I get less wood tannins, and more other flavors, next time?
Hi guys, some very interesting points, ive just made a 10 litre barrel of Negroni, Tanqueray Gin, Martini Rosso, Campari and Ramazzotti, went for a slightly extra sweetness using the Ramazzotti but already after a month its more tart and the caramel is coming through! Next on the agenda is ageing a old fashioned, so any tips most appreciated! Thanks Nick
Thanks, Jesse. Any suggestions on type of spirit and length of time? this is my first experience – very excited and want to do it right…
John, I would def. age a spirit in it first or you will have a very intense charred oak flavor.
I realize that they are a whiskey distillery, but there is no label on the side of the barrel. My invoice from them simply states custom made 5 liter barrel and included an insert from thousand oaks barrel company. Here is the description from the company website…
“Custom made 5 liter barrel. Tuthilltown Distillery logo engraved on front end. Handcrafted from American White Oak the barrel holds approximately 5 liter. All barrels have a medium toast and come with the stand, bung, and wooden spigot. These barrels have not been used. Perfect for aging Tequila, Brandy, Whiskey, Scotch, Bourbon, Cognac, or Wine Vinegar. 9.5″ x 6.5″ x 6.5″ inches”
since this barrel has not been used do I have to age spirits in them before using it to create a batch of manhattans?
well, i think tuthilltown is now selling new smaller barrels with their logo emblazoned, so you need to figure out what you bought and proceed accordingly.
i think my “new barrel” from tuthilltown is “new toasted oak”, not sure as I just received it from them yesterday. Only instructions were to prime it by soaking in hot water to cause the wood to expand. Otherwise I have no indication that it has been broken in…
John – Tuthilltown Spirits is a whiskey distillery. Your barrel has been used to age whiskey. It should say which whiskey on a sticker right on the side of the barrel.
no, i think you’d only want to do that if you were starting with an unused barrel as new toasted oak would be too intense.
Just received my barrel from tuthilltown and wanted to start a batch of manhattans. Do I really need to break in the barrel by aging spirits/sherry before actually aging a batch of cocktails? Wanted to get a batch going for Christmas presents…
Jeff, does the barrel have to be filled completely for the barrel aging to work correctly? I have a 6 gallon used whiskey barrel and would like to start out with aging only 1 gallon in it. Think this will work?
Jeff. Making a barrel sazerac. Is it best to use the sugar cubes as called for in the traditional recipe or put in the equivalent superfine sugar? Tom and Carol Murphy
does your caramel syrup have butter or cream in it like a dessert caramel sauce might have? or is it just burnt sugar and water? if it has dairy (or any fat) in it, leave it out until you are making the finished drink. if it is just burnt sugar it will be fine and would be no different than a spirituous liqueur with sugar already in it.
I am doing an aged cocktail for the first time in an american oak barrel. One of the ingredients is a house made caramel syrup. Would I have to worry about that going bad during the aging process?
I’m going for my RSA, which will legally allow me to serve alcohol on monday. I’m a big fan of your work, Jeffrey, and I really enjoy your writing style.
Also: one of those photos has a picture of an Australian beer! Cooper’s Pale Ale. Cool. That’s a nice beer.
I have a very simple question!
When you get the barrel do we have to burn it in side before using it?
How much alcohol do i loose from the absorvation of the wood?
Sorry make that a 1 liter – not 1.5
Just saw the article in the Wall Street Journal ( with recipes) that use a 2 1/2 gallon barrel from Tuttletown. I’m still playing with the charred 1.5 Liter barrels from 1000 Oaks (hyperlink in a earlier post)
I’m aging Finger Lakes 100 % corn whiskey and Wasmunds Rye in mine to season them ( and age the whiskey a bit) then proceed with the cocktails once I’ve got them broken in properly.
OK, so I purchased a 6g barrel….can’t wait to get started. Should I still experiment with the 53g vessel or just turn it into planter!
so… What are thoughts on using new light-toast oak barells instead of retired whiskey barells? I imagine that the drinks will age that much quicker, and also yield a few extra uses before the barell needs retoasting or retirement. but experience of others will be the true indicator. is a new barell too intense for the subtleties of most cocktails? thanks.
Holy moly that’s a big barrel. I haven’t tried anything close to that size, but my first thought is that you’re going to be at risk of over-oxidizing anything containing wine-based ingredients before you benefit from the barrel’s effects.
You’re going to be a trailblazer here, so proceed with caution and be sure to report back with your findings.
Jeffrey, I jumped the gun, being overly excited to barrel age cocktails, I went and picked up a 53g Buffalo Trace barrel. What effect would a 6gal or 9gal batch have w/in a 53g barrel?
I’ve heard of 2 ways to clarify citrus.
1) Fastest: Use a kitchen grade centrifuge to separate the solids from the liquids
2) Use a bonder like Agar that will adhere to the solids and seperate them and then strain out the remaining liquid through cheesecloth
I have not tried either method so I can’t speak to them. Obviously one of those is cheaper and easier to do at home than the other though. In a bar environment I’d imagine you’d want the centrifuge if possible.
How does one clarify lime juice?
Regarding Aging Cocktails with Citrus:
It can be done in a barrel if the citrus has been clarified first.
The volatile solids are the part prone to go rancid, not the acids themselves.
The head bartender from Compose here in New York (which unfortunately just closed) did this just recently with a Daiquiri using clarified Lime.
Avery Glasser from Bittermens also served me a “Clarified Daiquiri” at Amor Y Amargo just recently. I don’t think he had aged it but was talking about doing it.
At any rate, clarifying the citrus changes the cocktail in a fairly dramatic way to start. I quite liked it, and it tends to be a “cleaner” drink if you know what I mean. I imagine aging it for a few months would add some complexity and roundness that would be very satisfying.
Regarding the fresh juice, what do you guys think of barrel aging the cocktail sans juice then adding it fresh to taste once removed.
Once it’s in the bottle it seems to go pretty quickly anyway!
so what if you put wine in the whisky barrel first for 2 month and make sangria out of that. then reuse that barrel to make a drink with whisky? anything thoughts?
Sorry to make some recommendation for another blog. But Darcy O’Niel did a piece on barrel aged cocktail. With some very good tips.
We got a store in Holland that sell a lot of stuff, also used barrels. They that you first clean them with soda. After that you will need a 10g/l solution of tartaric acid and water. Let it stand for 2 or 3 days. Then empty it and rinse with normal tap water. After that use sulfur wick to burn it. It doesn’t say how much you should use. Here is a picture of the sulfur they sell. (Left bottom)
Wine makers use this technique. But i don’t know how many times they use the barrels.
But that’s cleaning. But to burn (with fire) them again is just a pain in the ass. You should take them apart, burn them and put them back together. It’s a lot of work.
Another thing that Tony C from 69 Colebrooke Row didn’t aged them on barrel but in glass bottles. First of all is that you miss the oak barrel flavor. Other thing that it will go much slower. So in the end you can bottle it and save it for years to come. He even got a 6yrs old Manhattan on the menu. (Well that is what the website says!) The big difference is that in the barrel it will age much faster then the bottle. It’s due to exposure to the outside air and climate.
Aging cocktails in barrels is a fantastic idea.
The cocktails have a fantastically unique flavor, they are original to your establishment plus it cuts down on prep time.
I hope we’re coming into the barrel age of the cocktail and moving away from the garden age we seem to be stuck in.
Jeff, this is a brilliant idea. I see I’m a little late in the barrel-aged cocktail game though. Nevertheless, found some nice barrels at http://www.oakbarrelsltd.com that are medium to medium+ charred. They come in a number of sizes and are on sale now.
My plan is to buy three 1L barrels and start with a Manhattan, the Boulevardier and the Harvard Cocktail.
Oh yes….and how many times can you use one barrel and still get good results? Thanks again for all of you’re hard work
Just 6 gallons of negroni and had a few questions Mr. Morgenthaler:
1. Should this be aged at room temperature?
2. Since it is relatively a large batch in comparison to your smaller 3-gallon batches, am I looking at 6 weeks or longer do you think?
3. Should I continue to age the same drink in the same barrel since these flavors of the negroni would almost surely impart it’s influence on any other cocktail we should age in this barrel?
Thank you for any insight you may be able to give.
Oscar material!! Good work guys!
Jeffery, A couple questions about the “Madeira-curing”:
(1) How full did you fill your barrel during the curing process?
(2) What Madeira did you use? I would think the “garbage in, garbage out” rule applies, but must one use top quality wine to cure the barrel?
(3) How did you determine that six months was the right amount of time for the cure?
Thanks for all of the insight Jeffrey! It is much appreciated!
Great work!! got couple of questions… first where do u buy the casks? second how do u multiply a recipe if u wanted to age it? 3rd how do u season an empty cask? ex port or scotch… can u buy them ready in small sizes? thanks chris
Jeff, thanks! Carpano is so good I just might throw it in anyway. I realize you might be reluctant to name a brand but any thoughts on using dry gin vs. Plymouth? do you think the lower ABV of the Plymouth would affect the aging process?
Jeff, thinking about trying a barrel aged Negroni. Any suggestions on gin and vermouth? I was thinking about using Carpano Antica but I am concerned that since it is so rich, the aging might put it over the top.
Matt – I love Antica Formula, but I always use Cinzano in my Negronis. Aged or not.
Thanks for those suggestions, Christopher and Jeffrey. I’m going to pick up my barrel from Tuthilltown tomorrow so I’ll start the process soon.
Jeffrey – Sorry my bad on the lemon- was thinking of a Spring Feeling still ( I’ve seen recipes using both.
Was just thinking the Chartreuse in a small bourbon barrel would be an interesting twist but yes the VEP would be about break even after I figure in evaporation depending on how long I left it.
Just finished aging some corn whiskey for 3 months and thinking of using the barrel for Pisco and Luxardo Maraschino for my Last Word variation -which does use lime juice ;-).
Should be ready by Spring – or it’s nearest equivalent up here (I’m across the lake from Toronto)
A Spring Feeling Cocktail ?
or maybe a Last Word ?
I’d worry about the lemon juice aging but all the other ingredients should be OK I think.
Really making me start to think about aging Chartreuse in a small barrel by itself too .
Christopher – It’s lime juice in a Last Word, not lemon; and I would also be wary of aging fresh juice for two months. For those of you who are interested, there is an aged version of Chartreuse out there called V.E.P., which stands for Vieillissement Exceptionnellement Prolongé, or “exceptionally prolonged aging” in English.
It’ll cost you a bit more than doing it yourself, I guess, but then again the V.E.P. has been aged for fifteen years in French oak. When you think about it that way, $110 a bottle seems pretty well worth it.
Any ideas for an aged spring-time cocktail?
Not that I really want to spill the beans here, John, but I’ve got a Chrysanthemum sitting in a bourbon barrel as we speak. It’s already been in for two months but the most recent tasting shows that it still needs a little time in the wood. But I think it’s going to be a beautiful springtime aged cocktail.
BTW good source for new barrels : http://www.1000oaksbarrel.com
New barrels (you will have to age them with the material of your choice to season them)
They are charred already and come with bungs, taps and even stands they are ready to go.Decent quality and prices as far as I can tell….
Been aging Some unaged rye and corn whiskies in mine to break them in- then probably on to some bitters.
There is the old story about sea captains lashing a keg under their rocking chairs after they retired – story goes the rocking simulated a sea voyage and mellowed out the whiskey/rum/whatever after an extended sojourn under the chair.
Kevin Kosar at Alcohol Reviews currently has a project he is posting about occasionally aging a small cask of whiskey in his bathroom ( I think he mentions something about high humidity to keep the evaporation to a minimum.
Having a barrel in a vehicle – especially a van instead of a trunk of a car) might be a problem with the police btw – or at least raise eyebrows….better check on that one before doing it. Good Luck!
Brian – I soaked a barrel in Madeira myself to simulate the sherry cask. It took upwards of six months.
Ceegee – I certainly haven’t tried it, but let us know how it works out for you!
Sounds good. I’m going to try a bottle aged Negroni.
Do you credit the barrel’sprevious spirit use with the flavor changes while ageing? Have you tried ageing while moving the vessel? I’m thinking of how India Pale Ale was improved after the sea voyage from England to India.
Perhaps a couple of casks in someone’s van over the winter. As they drive the mixture sloshes, and the temperature changes could be beneficial.
Good luck and good drinking!
For the aged Manhattan,did you soak the barrel in Madeira yourself or did you purchase it so? If you soaked it yourself , how long was the wine in the barrel? Thanks.
Anthonw, you make a really good point. I have thought the same thing. In fact, some bourbon rickhouses like those at Woodford Reserve are insulated and heated. This allows the distillery to ‘simulate’ warm and cold temperature extremes, effectively applying artificial seasons to the barrels and forcing the whiskey in and out of the wood many times throughout a year.
I think there are a couple schools of thought here. One is that the barrel aging adds flavors to the cocktail from whatever originally was in the barrel. The other is that the wood itself imparts character like it does with spirits and wine. I suspect the effects of both would increase from long aging or simulated seasonal changes.
I’ve been reading up on the history of bourbon and apparently bourbon ages much faster in Kentucky than Scotch does in Scotland because the temperature extremes in KY force the whiskey to expand and contract into the wood, absorbing the flavor much faster. Portland & Seattle don’t have much temperature fluxuation. But I had an idea I thought I would run by you.
Do you think that barrel aged cocktails would benefit from occasionally putting them into a suana or steam room for a few hours to help emulate some of these temperature fluxuations?
Love this idea.
I am based in Beijing and a friend who owns a bar here told me about your original post. I’m sourcing a few barrels for him from a friend in the wine industry here and hope to get equally good results.
I just finished aging Bourbon Manhattan in 2 litter sherry cask barrel.
It taste amazing, it has a smooth taste and well developed flavor.
I kept it in the barrel for four weeks. After the third week I decided to try it and it was smoother than the unaged one, but the extra week made all the difference.
I used new oak cask in which I aged for five weeks Oloroso Sherry, prior of putting in the Manhattan.
jeffrey, can you recommend a source for madeira barrels?
I’m not sourcing the madeira casks, I’m merely finishing whiskey casks for about six months with madeira and then using the barrel as a quasi madeira cask.
Am going to start off with a vieux carre aging in a single malt whiskey barrel.
Just finished up my second barrel aging subject — the Martinez. After six weeks in my little barrel the drink that emerged is one that is rounder, lush and imparts an amazing “silky” feel on your palate as you sip it.
I’ve opted to go with a Negroni (likely to be followed by my beloved Manhattan) to see if the barrel does for the Campari what it did for the other two drink subjects … round it out.
whoa…..Jeff Morgenthaler….Gary Regan….barrel aged cocktails….yep I just got a mixology boner.
Jeffrey! This is fabulous. I’m working on a book (gaz regan’s Annual Manual for Bartenders) that will be published next year, and I intend to feature you and Tony C as the innovators of this phenom. Could you drop me an email, please?
I actually live and work in Madeira island. I got a barrel from one of the major producers a while ago to try and flavour some dark spirits for mixing, after having a word about it with some people in UK. The issue of cleaning the barrel came across, and here the folks that make wine at home use sulphur, just like you did Jeff, to clean their barrels so they can re-use them, and so i did.
Been thinking of getting a used madeira barrel, and asking a carpenter to cut it up in chips, so i can flavour spirits, and after reading your amazing post, even cocktails, like they do with budget conscious New World wines.
Let´s see if that works out…
We have a rye up this way (read Finger Lakes area of New York State) that is aged in used local sherry barrels which is quite nice. So even if it is not from the EU designated area for such things the local sherry and port barrels might serve as they are trying to make a similar product in the barrel so the curing or base of the barrel flavor spectrum would meet your requirements and a lot cheaper than shipping a barrel from Europe.
I’ve actually two questions…
How did bourbon/rye barrel aged Manhattans turn out? Was the aging just too subtle, and only added a little char flavor rather than the fruit you would get from a wine cask? I ask because I intended to make Manhattans, but in my zeal, I overlooked the cask type and went straight to the Tuthilltown website and ordered a cask. Working in a bourbon-based bar a rye Manhattan seemed like the ideal drink to sell our owner on this concept… And my second question regards where people have had success in obtaining used port/sherry/madiera casks, if the aging wouldn’t work in the cask I have now…
I’ve no direct experience myself, however, most wineries either use a high-proof spirit (in their case, Marc/grappa/eau-de-vie) or copper sulphate sticks when cleaning barrels. The latter will leave a rotten egg aroma that takes some time to disapate, so for this purpose I think just adding some 151 or everclear then lighting may be best.
My worry about using any sort of cleanser designed for carboys etc. is that, unlike glass/steel, wood is porous and it would be extremely hard, if not impossible, to fully remove the cleanser perhaps imparting off-flavors to whatever may next be aged.
Another tip: fill the barrels with water if they’re to remain empty for any extended period. If left empty the wood may dry out, warp and soon you’ll have sprung leaks between the staves.
I love the idea and am intrigued about even taking it one step further: aging wines in spirit/cocktail casks. Islay Scotch finished Sauternes anyone? Scotch/Sauternes finished Oaxaca old-fashioned? Or then using the Sauternes, TBA, Tokaji, etc. in an old-fashioned or vieux carre with a base spirit that’s sympathetic to the spirit first aged in the barrel? Brandy crusta with scotch finished Sauternes?
I’ve also read of a decent number of people aging nogs, milk punches and things of that sort in a temp-controlled environment. bourbon barrel or malmsey-finished nog could be truly unique. Fish house punch?
And in temp.-control, what about some of the classic punches: fish house, etc.?
That is just the most brilliant thing I’ve heard in a long time.
Hi Jeffrey – probably like many others your post and ongoing work barrel aging drinks was an inspiration. I undertook such a project (first time) on a much smaller scale barrel aging a drink that I absolutely love, the Chocolate Martica — turned out nice although problems with my little barrel caused me to stop short.
Thinking about trying again but this time doing a drink with non-aged spirits.
Thanks for the great idea/hard work.
I was in Portland two weeks ago for a wedding and made sure to take time for a visit to Clyde Common for a barrel-aged Manhattan. Sadly, the Manhattan required more time to age so I went with a Negroni, not one of my favorite cocktails.
First sip was, well, a Negroni, but not bad. As I continued, my palate and the Negroni became very good friends,and by the last sip, I indeed had to have another.
Your barrel-aging is fantastic!
Just read about your experiments via the NY Times and have been inspired to do a little experimenting of my own. I was wondering if you’ve tried aging a perfect Manhattan — I love the original, but have tended towards its less-sweet sibling over the years and was curious what effect the aging process would have on the combination of two vermouths.
Thanks for the inspiration!
I haven’t tried aging a Perfect Manhattan yet, but would imagine the process to be the same. Try it and report your findings back here!
Clearly living in England, I can’t pop in to try your barrel aged cocktails.
However, I did take your recommendation and venture to 69 Colebrooke Road last night.
I had the ‘Vintage El Presidente’ Havana Barrel Proof, Triple Sec, Martini Rosso, Homemade Grenadine aged for 6 months.
Delicious. Thanks for the recommendation. I plan to go back to try the Manhattan (for research purposes purely).
I’ve been experimenting at work with barrel ageing vodka with interesting results.
Regarding barrel-aged cocktails containing fruit juice, I just stumbled across this in Jerry Thomas’s guide. It seems, at least in 1862, the good Professor was barrel aging cocktails with orange juice. Here’s the text:
“159. Rum Shrub.
Put three pints of orange juice, and one pound of loaf-sugar to a gallon of rum. Put all into a cask and leave it for six weeks, when it will be ready for use.”
He doesn’t exactly say where the cask came from or whether it’s the oak effects or just the blending of the ingredients he’s after. Maybe the cask even had rum in it to begin with, but it’s an old example, and it uses fruit juice to boot!
The Negroni was sublime, I will be in for a Trident shortly.
I am curious, what is the necessity of cleaning the barrels, as Jamie has asked? Are there concerns of bacterial growth due to sugar content in say, vermouth, or campari? wouldn’t the alcohol take care of little beasties?
Jeffrey, Thanks for your patience last night with the OTHER guest. We all kept our cool and ended up having a great time at the bar. Loved the barrel-aged Negroni, Trident, and of course, several other memorable concoctions. It was great to finally meet you. We will try to stop in again this week before we head back to St. Paul.
Pfffft. yooooo think yoooo know EVERYthing. I’ll have YOU know that….what was the question?
Today Jonathan Forrester gave me a call with a question about historic aging of cocktails. I thought about it and basically said no. He brought up a couple of maybes and I knocked ’em down. I said that to do it in oak they’d basically have to be aromatic cocktails because ones w/fruit juice would create a VERY suspect potion, unless they were aged in a walk-in. Jonathan then told me about Tony and a London aged Mai Tai which I didn’t believe (didn’t get told about glass/steel) and then he told me what you had been doing, Jeff. Having now read your own narrative, I am astounded and excited. As far as I am concerned this earns you a place in bar and cocktail history like no one else alive today. Nothing new under the sun? Hah. Ask Jeffrey Morganthaler. (Where the HELL have I been!?) BIG respect, –Doc.
Aw, shucks, thanks Doc! But I couldn’t help noticing that your comment came in at 6:30PM and I know you’ve got to have at least one cocktail in you at this point, so I’ll have to take any kudos with a grain of salt.
Just kidding. Much love from up North.
Check this out…A portuguese company that sells barrels and copper stills. You can make liquor then age it…awesome!
I started three gallons of Negronis today. Now just crossing off the days until it’s ready to drink.
The permutations seem endless. You could say age the gin then mix a negroni or age the gin in a barrel formerly used to age the negroni. Keep us abreast of the results
Tuttletown Distillery usually has small barrels that they have aged all sorts of spirits in. Maybe not a Scotch Single Malt but somewhat similar
Fascinating stuff, what I was wondering is where are you able to get single malt barrels? I have looked in the past and had no luck.
I just bought a 3 gallon barrel. Cannot wait to try some of these recipes out.
Jeff, this is amazing.
Cocktails in Barrels, and ready to serve.
I do not think it possible to do Legally something like this in my country.
But I’ll talk to some friends.
Maybe I get French oak barrels previously used for aging. malbec wine.
And if I find any beverage company, interested in this experiment.
It can be very funny.
Greetings from Argentina
After hearing some amazed whispers of your project a few months ago, I grabbed a few used Cruzan Rum barrels to give it a try. I can’t get any smaller than the 50 gallon ones they use, so I never really get them more than 1/10 full. I’ve aged two different types of bitters so far, but haven’t tried a cocktail yet. The Hibiscus & Coconut bitters I used came out with real subtle oak flavors, but as I use 189 proof rum distillate for the bitters, I don’t notice a difference in the flavor. The color though changed dramatically, giving a rich caramel darkness to the once-almost-clear Coconut and making the Hibiscus a near black.
I think my next try is to age a TNT Special (Applejack & Dry Vermouth) to see how the rum soaked oak imparts it’s tenacity to the drink.
All in all, great idea, I thanks for the inspiration!
Given that I’m unlikely to make cocktails in those kinds of quantities, I wonder what the best way to replicate them in glass is. As Jamie mentioned above, wood chips can be used (I know my local brewing supply place sells toasted oak cubes for “barrel aging” beer and wine). But presumably barrels also exchange a bit with the air (the angel’s share and all that), which is probably going to contribute to the reactions that take place in the barrel. A wooden stopper might be enough, but I guess I’ll just have to play around and see what works best.
Matt – No, I use the whiskey barrels as they come when I make the Negronis. I don’t feel there’s any need for wine washing on that particular cocktail.
I can’t wait to stop in and try all of these–69’s spring list added the delicious vintage El Presidente, I sampled an aged martini at The Bramble, and Montgomery Place is just starting up their first go at aged Adonises.
I wish I got back to Portland more often!
I don’t that “genius” is too strong of a word to use here. Well done Jeffrey!
I am visiting Portland from St. Paul, MN in mid-May. Is there a particular day of the week between the 14th and the 25th that I should plan to drop by and try some of these? Obviously, Clyde Common was already one of my destinations!
Any time is a good time, please stop in, introduce yourself and have one!
Do you previously age the Negroni barrels with anything – sherry? port? madeira?
Jimmy and Max – I haven’t done an Old Fashioned or a Sazerac because both of those cocktails are essentially a lot of whiskey, a tiny bit of sugar, and a little bitters. So, in effect, it seemed to me like we’d be aging whiskey in a whiskey barrel.
I like aging cocktails that call for vermouth because, well, I love vermouth. And also, I like seeing how the wine changes over that short period of time in the cask.
I think it’s important to contrast your cocktail against the barrel it’s being aged in. I like the gin and vermouth cocktails (and the rum and vermouth cocktails) in a whiskey cask, and the whiskey cocktails in a fortified wine cask. Does that make sense?
Copper Fox Distillery sells a 2 liter barrel with stand for about $40. It is charred and ready to go.The idea is that you are supposed to put their rye spirit (unaged 124 proof rye whiskey ) in it and let it age. It costs about $22 a bottle (uses 2 bottles) and is a great way to break in the barrel too.
In any case it is a good place to pick up some barrels of various sizes so you can age whatever you like in them. Getting a few barrels and breaking them in myself. After I dump the whiskey I am looking forward to aging some cocktails in them.
This is brilliant! Exactly the kind of genius I expect from you Jeff. I wonder what you get if you leave an old-fashioned in there longer, like maybe a year? That might be really interesting.
I think for cleaning you could use steam.
keep it up M, you are an inspiration!
I didn’t re-char the barrel as I have no means of taking them apart and putting them back together. I simply used a food safe cleanser used to clean out carboys along with sulphur.
I did discover after a while (3 or so uses) that I was unable to get the barrel completely clean, which is why I switched to using self-flavoured wood chips. Much easier to clean and about the same price as a barrel after you consider the wasted product in flavouring the wood.
I do love the romance of a barrel, however, and would love to know if anyone has a sure fire way of cleaning them.
This is such a simple yet brilliant evolutionary step in the world of cocktails, and man are those drinks delicious.
Well played sir!
The Negroni and Manhattan that I got to try this weekend were mindblowingly good.
Angus: Your brilliance frightens me.
Jaime: With your barrels did you re-char them after use? I would think that cleaning with water and some sort of simple cleanser, followed by the torch ought to do the trick.
I’m also wondering how many uses per barrel are possible – both spirit and cocktail-wise.
I know that most rums barrels are used bourbon barrels (used once) and they are typically used 3 times for rum before being considered spent and then discarded.
I wonder if a barrel that is too spent for spirits might still work for cocktails.
Barrel cleaning raises an interesting point. We initially purchased so many barrels that it hasn’t come up yet (the barrels have only been re-used once so far) but I’d be curious to hear from other barrel users.
I’ve had the pleasure of enjoying one of Jeffrey’s barrel aged rye Manhattans and it was amazing.
Hi Jeff – amazing sounding drinks – have you reused your barrels after each batch? given the short resting time how much change do you think is happening in the barrel?
I am definitely going to try this at my bar.Thanks Jeffery!
how did you seal the barrel after pouring the cocktail in it? Tuthilltown says they do not provide stoppers.
Also how are they cleaned?
This is a totally neat idea – I have to try it out. Especially given that you have optimized two of my favorite drinks: the Negroni and the Manhattan.
A few questions: Is there a dependence between the volume made and aging ? I found a place online where I can get 1 liter charred oak. This seems like a reasonable amount for me to experiment on at home.
Also, if one ages in a bottle – just how long are we talking about here.
(I’ve been following your blog and twitter for a while now, decided to delurk on this post 🙂 )
How are you finding the process of cleaning out the barrels? I’ve switched to wood chips several years ago due to my fear that I never really could tell if the barrel was clean. The down side to wood chips is the initial expense of “flavouring” them with wines or whiskey first, the plus side being that I could visually see if I had any growth left after cleaning.
Any barrel cleaning secrets you care to share?
Very very cool. Tony C is certainly an inspiration.
The common thread in the cocktails you’ve chose to age seems to be the presence of a either vermouth or sherry – Have you considered barrel aging a sazerac or old-fashioned? You’d think the presence of the sugar/bitters in the barrel would be enough to differentiate the process from a straight “finishing cask” deal, and maybe result in something totally different, as the Negronis/Manhattans have. The advantage/disadvantage is you could theoretically age the thing for a lot longer.
Also, Angus, thats pretty brilliant. Though I suppose theres nothing stopping Jeffrey from filling up a used Manhattan barrel with some single malt and doing it on his own.
Jimimac – it certainly does matter what the barrel has been up to prior to aging the cocktail. Experimentation and a little bit of knowledge are key here… as is a healthy sense of adventure. Thanks for the kudos.
Does it make a difference as to what was originally aged (or most recently aged) in the barrel prior to aging the chosen cocktail? What about brand new charred oak barrels? What about uncharred oak?
Other types of barrel woods?
I loved the Madeira barrel aged Manhattan, I have experimented with Glass aged Manhattans and they didn’t turn near as smooth as yours. It would be nice to have the marinated cherry recipe, you used in that Manhattan.
Thank you for your innovative ideas to take classic cocktails to the next level.
Angus, you just blew my mind.
Tony/Ryan – I’ve found that the oxidization on the vermouth is so gentle during the aging process, most likely due to the fact that it’s mixed with spirits, that the effect is more positive than negative. Think of it as a sort of controlled oxidization.
We had your aged Manhattan this weekend– thanks for the great drinks. (And thanks to Andrew for the excellent mixing.)
I guess it begs the question when will spirit companies come to you to age their products in barrels that used to contain cocktails? negroni finished malts?
I´ve heard amazing things about your barrel aged drinks.
What puzzles me the most is: how can the vermouth stand the oxidation and flavor changes that naturally occur after opening the bottles?
How long can they stay in the glass bottles? Do they still change after time or the potent mix helps to preserve the flavors?
Can wait to try aging cocktails in native Brazilian wood barrels I can easily find around here!
Think there would be any advantage keeping the vermouth mix in cold storage during the aging process?
Does the deflection in that steel shelf worry you at all?