It’s Okay To Cask…

It’s Okay To Cask…

The 40-Year-Old Virgin’s guide to appreciating fine whiskies, whiskys, and the like.


Hi again…short post this month; you may have heard that the ManBCrew has been spending a weekend or so down at one of our favorite locations, the one and only Cobra Lounge in Chicago, which is now doubling as “ManBQue HQ” for a top-secret project we’re involved in.  It was a very busy weekend, and took the Virgin away from hearth and home for long periods…

So imagine my surprise when I arrived home last Friday evening, after a long day of preparation, to these (a belated Christmas present, courtesy of my lovely wife): IMG_1723

(BTW, how do you like the logo on the right-hand one…the girl REALLY knows the way to a guy’s heart!)

Yep, Mrs. Virgin has started me on a new hobby…aging fine spirits and prepared cocktails in oak barrels!  These are, in fact, new charred oak, the same as whiskey distilleries use to impart the amber glow and mellow caramel/vanilla aromas in their stills’ output (which, let’s face it, is pretty much high-quality moonshine before the aging process).

These particular barrels are approximately 2 litres in volume, making them perfect for low-cost experimentation.  I hadn’t really thought about it, but as Jeffrey Morgenthaler pointed out in a post from his bar (Clyde Common) in Portland:

“A hundred some-odd dollars in liquor later…I plugged the barrel and sat back in anxious anticipation; if the experiment was a success I’d have a delicious cocktail to share at the bar – if it was a failure then I’d be pouring the restaurant’s money down the floor drain.”

This will be my first attempt at home aging cocktails, so I’m not going to start by using super-premium booze in these things. I’ll be able to make a nice batch of cocktails using a handle and a couple of additives, for not a whole lot of dough.

What am I gonna make?  Well, doing my usual bit of innernets research, it seems that the range of barrel-aged drinks has expanded considerably from the manhattans and negronis that started the trend.  The great website Serious Eats features a regular post called “Ask A Bartender”, wherein their legion of mixologist correspondents opine on all things cocktail related, including these many and great suggestions…I especially like barkeep Dave Kupchinsky’s (The Everleigh, LA) suggestion:

“I barrel-aged a Vodka + Redbull with Green Chartreuse in a sherry-cured barrel.”

Very interesting…but I doubt that I’m gonna ever consume two liters of Red Bull anything at my, uh, tender age.  Plus, I’d have to age some sherry first, and though I love a fine fortified wine, even my patience has its limits…I wanna drink this bad boy before I begin to collect Social Security!

Locally, The Whistler, The Aviary, Twisted Spoke and many other fine establishments have been making barrel-aged cocktails for years…and of course, where there’s success, there’s bound to be some Debbie Downers (in the form of the IL Liquor Control Commission) trying to put a damper on the fun.  May I suggest you write your local representative and suggest that there are far more pressing issues in this state than how barrel-aged cocktails are stored?

OK, enough soapboxing…back to the recipe!  I’m a member of this great site called Kindred Cocktails, so that’s where I went first…but was disappointed, as the site has literally hundreds of great recipes, but no information about barrel-aging. Cue Mrs. Virgin again; not only did she start me on this journey, but she sent me this wonderful link to an article by elegant gourmand David Lebovitz, detailing his adventures with liquor stores and barrel-aging in Paris, particularly a place I’ll def visit next time I’m in the City of Lights and Love, La Maison du Whisky.  In this post, I discovered an interesting variant on a very traditional cocktail for barrel-aging:

“We tasted some of the house inventions, such as a Mexican Negroni, made with Red Noilly Prat (a sweet vermouth), Nardini bitter, tequila bianco, and a shot of mezcal. Sipping one that was freshly made versus one that had been barrel-aged for six months revealed how a leisurely wait in a barrel really mellows out a cocktail.”

Sounds delish, but I’ve already got plans to put a nice white tequila (I’m leaning towards Herradura Silver, a delicious and decently-priced white) in the non-ManBQue barrel. Back to “Ask a Bartender” for a little more research…and I decided upon the Vieux Carré, a true classic of a cocktail:

“(The) Vieux Carre is easily the most responsive cocktail to barrel aging I’ve found. A word of warning: a standard Vieux Carre won’t suffice once you’ve had it barrel aged for 7 weeks.” — Beau du Bois (The Corner Door)

If you’ve never had a Vieux Carré (Français for “old square”), it’s a smashing combination of whiskey (rye usually), cognac, sweet vermouth, Peychaud’s bitters and usually an herbal liquor (Absinthe, Benedictine and Chartreuse are popular choices).  Maude’s Liquor Bar makes a great one, and I’ve gotten pretty good at them as well…the one Mrs. V and I are quaffing now has equal parts Maker’s Mark, Metaxa 5-star brandy, Carpano Antica vermouth, 4 dashes of Peychaud’s, a teaspoon of Luxardo Marischino liquer, and a few drops of lemon juice.  Add all the ingredients in a cocktail shaker with ice, shake vigorously, and strain into a chilled coupe.  No garnish necessary.  Drink with abandon.  Repeat until satisfied!

So that’s what I’ve decided is going in the ManBQue barrel…details such as which whiskey and what herbal are yet to be decided, but perhaps if you attend the March meating in Chicago, you may be rewarded with a taste of heaven, as embodied in a classic cocktail…

For a little more basic information on creating the barrel-aged cocktail of your dreams, this short article by Food & Wine is a great primer…and if you click on the drink pictures in the slide show on the right, it sends you to a recipe page.  I’m particularly intrigued by the Aged White Manhattan…

Until next time…happy drinking!



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