You don’t have to go to a bar to get a rich and mellow barrel-aged cocktail. It makes a great DIY project, especially if you need an interesting cocktail for your next party. We asked Tara Curry, bar manager of Ghost Plate and Tap in Denver, and David Perkins, proprietor at High West Distillery for advice on how to make a barrel-aged cocktail at home.
1. Prepare your barrel.
Start by filling your barrel with warm water, and then let it sit for a day or two. This allows the wood to expand and prevents your cocktail from leaking all over the kitchen.
If the barrel hasn’t been charred, it will impart much less oak flavor. If the barrel is charred, the cocktail will pick up the sugars caramelized in the wood, which will mellow out the taste. “It softens it a bit, you add sugar to cut burn,” describes Perkins. “The flavors marry and mellow out a bit so you get this smoother, more balanced, mellower drink.” If the barrel is used, your cocktail will pick up a bit of flavor from whatever was previously in the barrel.
You can purchase your barrel from a variety of online retailers or from distillers themselves. We got ours from Online Kegs & Barrels, but you can also purchase smaller barrels from Tuthilltown Spirits or Copper Fox Distillery. We recommend smaller two- or three-liter barrels for your DIY project.
2. Choose your cocktail.
“I don’t think barrel-aging would be a good time to try something completely new that you haven’t had before,” says Curry. Here comes the fun part: test out a few cocktails before you decide which one to age. Start with cocktails like the Negroni, Manhattan, and Trident. Or take a look at our 5 Barrel-Aged Cocktail Recipes.
Stay away from cocktails containing fruit juice or dairy, as both will spoil when left in the barrel. Also avoid carbonated ingredients like club soda, which will lose their fizz when aged.
When you’re shopping for ingredients, “make sure you have the best ingredients you can get your hands on,” says Curry. “Spend a little bit of money on a better bourbon or a better sweet vermouth.”
3. Mix the cocktail.
A two-liter barrel has approximately a 67-ounce capacity, so you’ll want to adjust your recipe accordingly. To make things easier, aim for a total of 60 ounces of liquid. It isn’t necessary to use fill entire barrel (we used about two thirds of our barrel).
4. Put your cocktail in the barrel and wait.
Use a funnel to pour your cocktail into the barrel, seal it and let it age at room temperature. As the cocktail ages, Perkins advises, “taste it every week if doing it at home in a small barrel. There’s a point at which it’s going to extract too much flavor.” After your drink has picked up just enough oak flavor, it’s time to roll out the finished product.
5. Strain cocktail and serve.
Use cheesecloth to strain the cocktail into a large glass container. This will remove sediment and debris from the wood. Congratulations! You’ve aged your first cocktail. Invite your friends over and show off your delicious creation — you may just impress some people.
6. Re-use your barrel.
Refill your barrel with warm water and let it sit until you’re ready for cocktail number two. This will keep the wood swollen and prevent leaks.