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:3. 1886:
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.