Post image for Project Barrel Aging – I see Manhattan’s in the not too distant future

Project Barrel Aging – I see Manhattan’s in the not too distant future

by KeithP on January 7, 2011

Well, new year, old project.  Nothing wrong with that, especially because this project has been a supremely fun and interesting one with which to take part in.  We have had our difficulties — leaky little boat of a barrel; problems with user pouring mixtures into and out of the barrel resulting in loss (as a spirits lover this pains me deeply … it’s not a cost issue but something so precious as good booze should not ever be wasted), some drying issues, etc. All-in-all though it has been a fun, and a tasty, little experience.

I am the first to admit that my little effort has been less than scientific (which will likely not be the case if/when I embark on this project again).  It has been my main goal to test how aging in wood changes the texture and profile of the drink versus testing for meaningful variation in flavor resulting from prior experiments (i.e. testing for the impact on the drink from what came prior in the barrel).

So far we have aged three different drinks (as a reminder they are in order of aging, the Chocolate Martica, a Martinez and a Negroni), each with different flavor profiles and each comprised of a variety of different base spirits and key ingredients.  Each of these agings, due mainly to my inexperience at such things, have all undergone differing times in the barrel and yet each have exhibited the same key characteristics post-barrel aging — a unique smoothness to their overall texture and a heightened (and in the case of the Martica and the Martinez a rather lush form of this) level of sweetness that was not present prior to aging. These previous experiments are all resting comfortably in their new homes, clean bottles and in a sense this project will by default turn into a longer-term one; to see, similar to Tony Conigliaro what we can achieve by resting these longer-term in bottles.  We’ll sample each one yearly (let’s be truthful, it’ll be more than this), a year after their bottling dates, to see if any changes occur.

It feels to me like we may be coming the end of the useful life of our little wooden friend.  So what is next?  We have been aging a dry sherry for a little over three months in the barrel to see what if any impact this has on two fronts. First, does it mask or alter the impact of what residual flavor is left from the prior agings. Second, similar to scotch being aged in used sherry casks, does this have a similar impact composition-wise on our cocktail.

The sherry has been withdrawn to be used in future cocktails and we have pre-batched a full barrel’s worth of Manhattan’s.  Ideally we intend on letting this rest for at least three months with sampling occurring at the end of each month.

Manhattan Cocktail (Barrel-Aged)
Recipe based on theSpeakista’s current “house recipe” and sized appropriately

•    4 1/4 cups Rittenhouse bonded rye
•    2 1/8 cups Carpano Antica vermouth
•    30 dashes Angostura bitters
•    15 dashes of Bitter Truth mole bitters

Assembly: Poured all ingredients into the barrel, said a little prayer to the Anti-Leak God and sealed her up. Fingers are once again crossed.

Expectations: I would at first blush assume we will see similar effects as from prior versions — a “smoothness” added to the texture of the drink; added sweetness from the oxidation of the vermouth; and likely some enhancement of one or more of the component ingredients.  We have given a good deal back in terms of the “angels share” in our prior attempts so if we hold to past loss we should end up with less then two bottles worth (approximately two bottles of ingredients are aging currently), and my guess is about 25% less.

Next up — With this barrel, likely nothing more other than considering making a batch of homemade bitters with an eye to barrel-aging a portion of these in the post-Manhattan barrel (sorta akin to the Fee Brothers Whiskey Barrel Aged bitters).

theSpeakista asks:

1. Have you tried similar experiments at your home base and if so how have they turned out?

2. Any good “barrel-aged” drinks tried while imbibing at a local watering hole?

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{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

DJ HawaiianShirt January 10, 2011 at 10:42 am

The increased sweetness in the aged cocktails doesn’t surprise me. Alcohol and water evaporate while sugar does not. By definition, this means that anything aged in a barrel will be sweeter afterward.

Don’t forget to revisit some of my recent thoughts on my barrel-aged stuff: adding a bit of grain alcohol to the mix will indeed lessen the angel’s share, though I’m not sure you’d actually want to do that.

KeithP January 10, 2011 at 6:22 pm

Me neither re: the sweetness and the evaporation effect. more how the sweetness became “lush” in certain of the mixes and in others simply sweeter.

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