Barrel Aged Cocktails: What They Are + 3 Places to Drink Them
Justin Pike siphons a cocktail out of the barrel
Despite the Angeleno phobia of anything showing signs of age, some things do, in fact, improve over time. Cocktails can be one of those instances, given the proper circumstances.
It's said that Tony Conigliaro of London's 69 Colebrook Row was the first to age cocktails, though he did his in glass rather than in oak. Jeffrey Morgenthaler brought the technique to the next level at Clyde Common in Portland, building cocktails and then aging them in wooden barrels to round out the flavors. The use of old whiskey or bourbon casks imparts smoke and spice into their beverages, allowing the disparate ingredients to meld together over time.
A few L.A. bartenders have taken note, and are implementing the technique into their menus. Here are a few establishments that are rightfully proud of their age:
1886's flight of barrel aged Vintage Caprice cocktails
Danny Cymbal and Marcos Tello recently released a vertical tasting of the Vintage Caprice, showcasing samples of the cocktail at different states in the aging process: one made al minute; another at 4 months of barrel aging; and the last with a full year of age. Tasting the three side by side gives the palate a chance to experience how the flavor profile evolves with time, oak contact, and oxidation. The cockail, which is composed of Beefeater London Dry Gin, dry vermouth, Benedictine and orange bitters, takes on the rich, smoky, earthy characteristics of Bourbon in the 1-year version. Our table's favorite was the 4-month Caprice because the oak didn't overwhelm the gentle floral notes of the gin. 1886 Bar, 1250 South Fair Oaks Ave, Pasadena; (626) 441-3136.
2. Blue Cow:
Steve Livigni showcases barrel aged cocktails on two of his menus: Downtown L.A.'s Blue Cow Kitchen & Bar and La Descarga. For Blue Cow, he ages Herradura anejo tequila, aperol, Punt y Mes vermouth, and peach bitters on boubon barrels for about 5 weeks. For La Descarga, there's Tapping the Admiral, which is basically a barrel aged rum Manhattan made with Zaya rum, cherry heering, carpano antica vermouth, and angostura bitters. The Admiral has been on the menu since La Descarga's opening, which means that he's constantly tweaking the duration spent in the barrel. Each time the oak is used, it becomes more leeched of its tannins and the sugars from the booze are absorbed, so the contents will need more time in the barrel to result in a similar oak effect.
Livigni enjoys barrel aging technique for a few reasons. "It's a fun experiment where you can add your style to the cocktail," he says. "Yes, it adds tanins and vanilla and spice, but it also lets all those different spirits and liquors spend time together and become really balanced. Things become nicely combined in a way that shaking can't." Blue Cow,350 S. Grand Ave, Downtown; (213) 621-2249.
1. The Tasting Kitchen:
Inspired by his time behind the stick at Clyde Common, Justin Pike has taken quite a liking to this barrel aged business. But he's cautious about his choices; after all, an entire barrel of lost product is no good for a bar's bottom line. "Just putting something in a barrel doesn't mean it's going to be better than it was before," says Pike. "I try to think to myself, 'Is this just novelty, or is it really good?'"
To date Pike has made 6 barrel aged cocktails at the Tasting Kitchen, the most recent of which is the Mamajuana, a Dominican Republic-inspired drink made by aging bark-soaked rum in small format Tuthilltown American oak whiskey barrels. The result is a smoky, round-bodied cocktail that's become more mellowed and sophisticated over time. Ya hear that, Lara Flynn? Tasting Kitchen, 1633 Abbot Kinney Blvd, Venice; (310) 392-6644.
Get the Food & Drink Newsletter
Our weekly guide to Los Angeles dining includes food news and reviews, as well as dining events and interviews with chefs and restaurant owners.