I experimented with aging cocktails in bottles with charred oak staves last fall, but now I’m stepping up my game because my parents got me a charred oak barrel for Christmas.
After filling it with water and topping it off daily for two weeks, the wood swelled enough to prevent leaks and I was ready to start.
I picked Manhattans to start with because 1) This barrel holds 32 cocktails and not everyone likes the taste of Campari and 2) The flavors aren’t as intense as gin and Campari, so it is less likely to impact future spirits in the barrel.
Starting with my Manhattan recipe as a base, I scaled up the rye and vermouth. I opted to add the bitters to the glass before serving because bitters are so strong that they do not scale linearly like other liquors. A small amount goes a long way, so dumping half a bottle of bitters into the barrel might ruin the rest of the contents.
I measured the volume of my barrel and scaled accordingly. I needed 80 oz of rye (I opted for Rittenhouse) and 24 oz of sweet vermouth (I opted for Carpano Antica). I grabbed my trusty stainless steel funnel and went to work.
I put the barrel on a shelf out of direct sunlight and left it there. I jostled it around once every few days to circulate the contents a little bit.
We sampled it after three weeks, but it was clear that it wasn’t ready yet. It still had too much of a bite. I knew it could be better. We went a whole month without trying it again.
Now the Manhattans have been aging in the barrel for ten weeks. They’ve really smoothed out and picked up hints of vanilla, oak, and charcoal. I’m not tasting any oxidation on the vermouth. I’m very pleased with how this batch turned out.
To serve two drinks, I put a large ice cube in my cocktail mixing glass, add 6 dashes of Regan’s orange bitters, fill the glass up from the spigot, and stir to cool the drinks down. I let it sit for a minute as I get an orange peel ready in each coupe, then I pour the now-chilled liquor in each glass.
It is going to take us a while to finish the contents of this barrel. It makes enough for 32 cocktails overall. After another week or so, I’m going to bottle this and start aging something else. I haven’t decided quite what it will be yet, but I’ll definitely let you know.