By Christopher Zook
Signature drinks are a bar's punchline: You attract your audience with some advertised deals, set them up with a nice dinner, and take it home with a unique house-only cocktail. But fresh-mixed isn't always the best way to serve every drink. Dating back to the 19th Century, the practice of barrel aged cocktails are making a resurgence among bars the world over for one important and simple reason.
How to Mix
There are a few quick steps you need to take care of before making your actual cocktail. First, you need a barrel that will suit your needs. The smaller and newer a barrel is, the faster it will work. When you have it, fill it with warm water and let it sit for about two days to test for leaks. If it's all sealed up, you're good to move on.
Next, mix your cocktail as you would serving it fresh. But avoid perishable ingredients as often as possible - you actually don't want to use them at all. Egg whites, creams, and fruit juices are all off limits because they will eventually spoil and mess up the aging process. But once you're barreled, the hard part is over.
How to Store
The storage / aging period is fairly boring for a cocktail, but it still requires some important steps. The entire process takes about six to eight weeks depending on the flavor you're looking for, so it's a good idea to taste test about once a week to avoid over-flavoring. If your cocktail has aged before you planned to serve it, pour it into a glass container to keep it at its prime flavor. It won't absorb any flavor from glass, and you can use this as an opportunity to add bitters or additional flavorings. However, in the event your cocktail becomes over-infused, unfortunately there's not a lot you can do except try again.
If you plan on making multiple cocktail batches, keep in mind that while the barrel's flavor fuses with the cocktail, the cocktail's flavor also fuses with the barrel. So if you've used the same barrel to age Manhattans, don't start using it to age martinis. This will prevent flavor cross-contamination to help your drinks can maintain their signature tastes.
How to Serve
When your cocktail is ready to serve, it's important to take precautions to keep the beverage looking clean. Tying a cheese cloth to your barrel's tap will help strain the cocktail to hold back any wood sediment from the barrel's interior. You can also do this if you're serving from glass containers that weren't previously strained just to make sure your customers don't receive any stray solids with their order. If you're expecting a large number of orders for your cocktails, it's a good idea to strain it before the time at which you have to serve it. Otherwise, you may be replacing cloths and taking unnecessary time to filter when it could have been done earlier. After your barrel is empty, keep it water-tight by quickly filling it with warm water. This will help keep the wood soaked.
But really, this whole process isn't difficult. And once you find the optimum time for aging, it gets easier whenever you make a new batch. Barrel-aged cocktails are an excellent addition to any bar or restaurant's menu, and with how quickly they're catching on, it's better to be an early trendsetter than a late adopter.