Bar Trends - Barrel Aged Cocktails

    Bar Trends - Barrel Aged Cocktails

    Barrel aging is about letting things sit and develop in richness over time.  
    There’s something pleasingly low-tech about barrel-aging. Whereas many of the recent innovations in mixology seem to involve elements of the lab, fancy molecular tinkering involving dry ice and flavoured ‘air’, barrel aging is about letting things sit and develop in richness over time.   The term is one most people associate with whisky (or, maybe, feta cheese) but many bartenders are now using the technique to give a depth of flavour to certain cocktails. Tony Conigliaro of London's 69 Colebrook Row was one of the first to start aging cocktails, though he did this in glass rather than oak (bottle-aged rather than barrel-aged). But the real pioneer in the field was the team at Portland’s Clyde Common. Old whisky barrels are used to give greater depth and character to the drinks, the natural oxidisation process allows the disparate ingredients to merge and meld, to create an altogether more complex taste experience. The nature of the barrel itself and whatever was previously contained within it – be it whisky or sherry – also plays a role in developing the flavour of the aged cocktail.  

    These barrel-aged drinks are available in an increasingly large number of London bars where the cocktail is taken seriously. VOC, a 17th-century-style ‘punch house’ in a cellar near King's Cross has a selection of such cocktails on the menu. Owned by the same crew, the Worship Street Whistling Shop in Shoreditch serves six barrel-aged drinks, including the Old Tom, a gin concoction aged with sweet spices and sugar in a sherry oak cask and the Jager Tree, a mixture of rum, vanilla, hazelnut and poppy seed. At 69 Colebrook Row they remain committed to the process and the menu features a Vintage El Presidente, a mix of Havana Club Barrel Proof, Martini Rosso, Merlet Triple Sec, and homemade Grenadine   It’s a trend that’s big in the US too. The Tasting Kitchen in Los Angeles serves a number of barrel-aged drinks, including the Mamajuana, which consists of bark-soaked rum aged in American oak whiskey barrels. Not all drinks respond well to the process (fermentable ingredients, like fruits, don’t cope so well for obvious reasons), but the right spirit mixed with a careful balance of aromatics can produce a pretty memorable result.  

    In a relatively short time barrel-aging has become a global cocktail phenomenon, a world-wide trend. Singapore’s renowned Tippling Club offers a Martinez and a Cuban Manhattan, both of which have been aged in small barrels for 18 months before serving. Sydney’s Low 302 meanwhile serves a barrel-aged Regal Roy, a heady mix of Chivas Regal and Dubonnet with a dash of bitters given a honeyed, smoky taste by the barrel-aging process. The resulting cocktails may not be for everyone. Barrel-aged drinks are often rich and potent things, serious drinks for those who take their drinks seriously. But if you’re at all interested in the bartender’s art, you need to give them a try.

    Written by Natasha Tripney

    Article created on 18/12/2014

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