Crafting barrel-aged cocktails
Looking to create an innovative serve while also speeding up service? Creating barrel-aged cocktails could be what you are looking for. Jack Sotti, venue manager at the Boilermaker House in Melbourne, gives us the ultimate dos and don’ts of how to make the best barrel-aged cocktails.
I first read an article about barrel aged cocktails in 2010 and since then these cocktails have taken the industry by storm. Bartenders all over the world are experimenting with new flavors through barrel aging and have also seen the added benefits of improved speed of serve and consistency. So first things first, let’s talk about what barrel aging is and what it adds to a cocktail.
What is Barrel Aging?
Barrel aging is the process of using wood and time to change the flavor of a product placed within it through maturation. Maturation is a three-pronged process: Extraction, Subtraction and Oxygenation.
- Extraction: Alcohol acts as a solvent and pulls out flavors and colors from the cask. For example, if you use an oak cask, notes of vanilla, coconut and marzipan will often be tasted in your serve.
- Subtraction: It is common process to char the inside of your barrel. This will ensure the cocktail you place inside will continually pass through a charcoal layer, which acts as a filter. The goal is to soften the cocktail and clean up any harsh, sulphuric flavors.
- Oxygenation: Arguably the most important for cocktails. Barrels are porous and will slowly allow your cocktail to interact with the surrounding air. A controlled oxidation of ingredients within a cask can produce new nuances and marry the individual ingredients together, creating a harmonious serve.
Getting started—The key to the cask
First, you have to choose the right material. The majority of barrels are made of oak with the most common being American oak and European oak.
You can purchase oak barrels from a wide variety of companies including The Whisky Broker, however if you are using a brand-new barrel, you will need to prep the oak using the following steps:
1. Charring the Barrel: As mentioned, charring (partially burning) the inside of the barrel creates a filter. To do this you will need to dismantle the cask which can be tricky; however, you can buy barrels that have already been charred.
2. Prefill: The barrel will need to be soaked to allow the wood to expand and seal any potential leaks. To do this, fill the barrel with filtered water and after 24 hours the wood should have swelled enough to plug any leaks. Afterwards allow the water to drain out for around 12 hours.
3. Season the Cask: This is a fantastic way to reduce the water content in the pores of the oak and also add an extra dimension to your cocktail. Be as creative as you like. A tequila finish can lend an extra dimension to the spicy, herbaceous notes of a rye cocktail.
Top tips to create the perfect barrel—aged cocktail
Take it up a level: Try infusing your seasoning liquid for an extra dimension to your cocktails. Orange peel and vanilla infused Oloroso Sherry sets the stage for a truly magnificent Old Pal.
Seal the leak: Sometimes intense temperature fluctuations can cause leaking. An organic beeswax is a great option for sealing leaks. Empty the cask of its liquid, rub the beeswax onto the problem area and give it a quick blast with a blow torch to melt the wax into the oak.
Reuse the Cask: After four to six uses your cask will be pretty spent, however you can continue using it to add controlled oxidation to your cocktails or alternatively, you can use your cask to put a unique cocktail finish on a spirit. A Manhattan cask finished with Johnnie Walker Black Label is always a winner.
The Angels' share - Be aware that when Whisky is slowly maturing in its cask, a small amount of Whisky evaporates through the wood and into the atmosphere. Factor this loss into your final cocktail cost.
Barrel Half Full or Half Empty?: Emulating the solera process of Spanish Sherry bodegas is a fantastic way to get consistency out of a barrel aged cocktail, especially if you intend on having the cocktail listed for a while. Have a series of casks and when bottling, only empty the first cask halfway. Top it up with the second cask, the second cask with the third, and so on, finishing with a fresh batch of unaged cocktail in the final cask. At Boilermaker, we have a six-cask solera system.
Maintenance: In between uses, ensure your cask is filled with something so it doesn't dry out. If you are filling it with water, ensure you change it every two weeks so as not to stagnate.
Why not try some of my barrel-aged favorites to get you started?
Season the cask with pineapple-infused Rum.
Remove the Rum from the cask.
Add cocktail to seasoned cask:
- 1.75 oz. JOHNNIE WALKER Black Label
- .75 oz. Vermouth
- .25 oz. Cognac based liqueur
Leave your cocktail to age for 4–8 weeks.
Add 2.5 oz. of batched, barrel-aged cocktail to a mixing glass.
Fill with ice.
Add 2 dashes of bitters to serve.
Stir and strain into an old-fashioned glass and garnish with a candied pineapple ring.
Infuse the peels of 3 large navel oranges and 5 split vanilla pods into 5 liters of Oloroso Sherry and add to 5-lister cask. Agitate daily for one month.
When your cask is seasoned, use the Sherry in mixed drinks. A favorite of mine is infused sherry with tonic water.
Add your cocktail to the seasoned cask:
1.5 oz. BULLEIT BOURBON
.75 Red herbal liqueur
.75 Dry vermouth
Leave to age for 4–8 weeks.
Add 2.75 oz. of your cocktail to a mixing glass with ice.
Stir and strain into a coupe glass.
Garnish with a lemon twist.
(*One standard drink contains 0.6 fluid ounces of alcohol)
BARREL- AND BOTTLE-AGING CHART
Aging a badly made cocktail is not going to make it better! Use reasonable ingredients and make it with the outcome in mind.
BEHIND THE LIQUID: CASKS AND WHISKY
When it comes to impressing your customers with your knowledge on the various characteristics and flavor profiles which make up your signature whisky serves.
TOP TIPS FOR CRAFTING YOUR OWN SYRUPS
A great way of add new, exciting flavors to your cocktails by creating your own syrups. Not only can these new tastes create a fresh new experience for your customers, they can also save you money!
Looking for an elusive flavor in your spirits but can’t find it on your back bar? Infusing your own spirits could be the answer you are looking for!