Aged cocktails aren’t new (see our Aged Cocktails feature for more on the so-called recent trend). But their revival—thanks in large part to London Mixologist Tony Conigliaro and Jeffrey Morgenthaler of Clyde Common in Portland—has sparked a lot of interest from the consumer. While Conigliaro is of the bottle-aging camp, Morganthaler uses barrel-aging to turn Negronis into a mellower and silkier version of themselves, proving the adage that things just get better with age.
This technique issue will concentrate on the basics of barrel-aging. Despite the sophisticated techniques and cocktails of all shades that bring barflies and cocktail geeks alike to Clyde Common’s bar (including Morgenthaler’s spot-on cocktail pairings with Chef Chris DiMinno’s Dan Barber-esque Northwest cuisine), it’s Morganthaler barrel-aged concoctions that have won him industry recognition (and admiration).
Spirit-based cocktails without fresh ingredients that spoil over time tend to lend themselves best to barrel-aging—Morgenthaler is pretty generous with his knowledge and shares a lot of his recipes and techniques on his website. In basic terms, you take a cocktail (with a strict spirits backbone), put it in a barrel, and wait. The alcohol extracts colors and flavors from the wood over time (about six weeks in the case of Morgenthaler’s Negroni) and the resulting cocktail is more than a sum of its parts. Rather than picking out the Campari, gin, and vermouth separately when you taste it, the different components meld into a more harmonious elixir, and the mouthfeel softens slightly. If you want to get technical, there’s a 3-part reaction going on—the cocktail picks up some of the flavors from the wood, mainly vanillin; the cocktail also oxidizes, creating some of the nutty flavors you might taste in the final cocktail; the wood also reacts with the cocktail, creating the sugars that give the drink its softness and help integrate the different elements.
To heighten this effect, Morgenthaler sources 2½ gallon barrels from New York whisky producer Tuthilltown Spirits for this cocktail. For more on color and flavor extraction, barrel types, barrel sourcing, and bottle-aging, see our Aged Cocktails feature.
Step 1: Soak a used whiskey barrel with warm water for at least 48 hours to swell staves and prevent leaking.
Step 2: Combine the Campari, gin, and sweet vermouth in a large container to make a big batch of Negronis.
Step 3: Using a funnel, pour the mixture into a barrel and seal it.
Step 4: After aging for at least 6 weeks, decant the barrel through a fine-meshed sieve into a large container to remove the sediment.
Step 5: Refill the barrel with water to prevent it from drying out.
Step 6: Decant the strained barrel-aged Negroni into bottles for service.
Step 7: Measure out the Negroni mixture with a jigger and pour into a chilled mixing glass.
Step 8: Add ice to the mixing glass.
Step 9: Stir with a barspoon until chilled.
Step 10: Strain the mixture into a chilled coupe.
Step 11: Mist with orange peel and serve.
How to Barrel-Aged Cocktails
Mixologist Jeffrey Morgenthaler of Portland, Oregon’s Clyde Common, demonstrates the technique for his Barrel-Aged Negroni.