With barrels now available to the home bar geek, distillers barrel-aging and bottling their boozy recipes, and barrel-aged cocktails appearing in even more experimental combinations across the country, barrel-aging seems destined to age quite well.
So, what exactly is this mysterious process? Not so mysterious at all, really. Booze has been in barrels for centuries. During the Golden Era of the cocktail in the late 19th century, Jerry Thomas -- the ultimate bartender/showman -- was aging rum shrub in casks for about six weeks, as well as bottling many of his cocktails, most likely for easy storage and batching drinks. At the turn of the century, 1910 adverts from the Heublein Company touted their bottled cocktails first being aged in wood; these Club Cocktails were popular even into the 1960s.
As far as the modern trend, the story has become almost apocryphal. Innovative bartender Jeffrey Morganthaler of Clyde Common in Portland was the first to explore the concept in 2010 after being inspired by a trip to the London lab of molecularly inclined cocktail guru Tony Conigliaro, who was bottle-aging cocktails. The Clyde Common experiments caught on; what started as "an American curiosity", as Morganthaler first called it, is clearly here to stay.
As we noted last spring, L.A. bartenders had just started playing with the possibilities of barrel-aging. Now, a year later, the barrels continue to overflow. Here's the latest round-up of mellow mixtures that are in their prime.4. The Tasting Kitchen:
We found Justin Pike, formerly of barrel-aging heaven Clyde Common, still hard at work on new concoctions. Why? "I think that barrel-aging is another tool a bartender has, just like using a muddler or a stirring spoon," he explains. "It just happens to be way bigger and smells like burnt wood." Right now, Pike is serving a Negroni (Plymouth navy strength gin, Campari, and Carpano) that he feels is the best stirred cocktail to age because of the gin's higher proof (higher proof helps deliver flavors more effectively). Come July, look for a barrel-aged sour, which began as what Pike thought was a "mistake." When he first aged this drink -- a combination of bourbon, Luli Moscato Chinato, the herbal liqueur Becherovka, absinthe, and a complementary wormwood dram -- he found it too bland, so he added lemon and maple, creating what became "a beautifully textured sour that could only be produced from the concentration that happens during the barrel aging." 1633 Abbot Kinney Blvd., Venice; (310) 392-6644.