I finally (after longing for one for quite some time) bought myself a small oak barrel – 1-liter small to be exact. It’s super adorable and a perfect size for experimenting. And it’s inexpensive enough to make me not too worried about ruining it.
I first experimented with cocktails to figure out what I was going to put in it. My go-to drink is an Old Fashioned, but I wanted to give myself more options.
The primary requirement for barrel aging a cocktail is that it needs to be spirit-forward and can’t contain any citrus juice (which will degrade in the barrel). The other consideration is that whatever goes into the barrel will flavor future cocktails that get aged in the barrel, so I didn’t want to try anything too crazy.
I had zeroed in an a Vieux Carre because it’s smooth and contains rye, one of my favorite spirits. The downside is that it also contains benedictine, one of my least favorite spirits. Still, it’s a pretty good drink. The next drink I tried is called Between the Sheets – brandy, rum and cointreau, with Lactart (lactic acid) standing in for the lemon juice. I didn’t love it, although I think it might age well. The last candidate was a Ciudad Vieja, another rum and brandy cocktail – but I wasn’t blown away. Although I’m curious if a cocktail I find just acceptable would be greatly improved with time in the barrel.
Besides an Old Fashioned, I also considered a Manhattan or El Presidente, all fine drinks that deserve consideration for my next barrel aging experiment.
I mixed up a big batch of the Vieux Carre – enough for 13 cocktails, to be exact. I had prepared the barrel a couple of days prior by filling it with water so the wood expanded and I wouldn’t have booze leaking out of it. One of the local bartenders suggested I season the barrel ahead of time with Cognac as well. Good idea, but I was too anxious to get started.
Into the barrel went the concoction, and then I tasted a bit of the drink every day for just over a week. It smoothed out considerably, and became infused with oak and vanilla. Once it was aged to my liking, I bottled it up, and now I can enjoy an aged Vieux Carre any night of the week.
- Vieux Carre (Imbibe)