It’s wood to the last drop! Intrepid bartenders are putting entire cocktails into barrels and letting the wood work its wondrous magic, adding nuance and integrating the complementary (or sometimes adversarial) flavors into something composed. The technique started in glass, an inert substance that allows resting spirits to come together into cocktails that could be dispensed right into a glass and enjoyed. Witnessing this technique in London and putting an American spin on it, Portland, Ore., bar manager Jeffrey Morgenthaler rolled out a barrel, made an aged Negroni in it and blogged about it in April 2010 (JeffreyMorgenthaler.com). It got him into The New York Times and subsequently sent untold numbers of bartenders running to their nearest distillery (or to Tuthilltown.com) to purchase small barrels and give it a go.
Inspired by the technique and by the legend that coined the phrase “Tapping the Admiral” (a darkly comedic tale of a slain Admiral Nelson, the rum cask into which he was placed and a ship full of thirsty sailors), Infinium Spirits’ Tore Kragerud procured a Templeton rye barrel (said to be Al Capone’s favorite) for the Cosmopolitan beverage department, which pooled its collective resources to hatch the property’s first barrel-aged cocktail in a big way.
A 3:2:1 ratio of Zaya 12-year-old rum, Carpano Antica Formula sweet vermouth and Fernet Branca was added to the 53-gallon barrel, which spent four months resting in the Talon Club. “We originally thought it would only need two months in the barrel,” says beverage director Scott Barthelmes, “but as we tasted it we realized it needed longer.” Two weeks ago, when the moment was right, Barthelmes emptied the barrel and distributed 100 liters of the cocktail so-dubbed 12-Year Itch across property in beautiful glass decanters.
Service requires just a glass and ice—one ounce over one Kold-Draft ice cube or two ounces with two cubes. The resulting aged cocktail is deeply sweet, full-bodied and complex. “I can describe the flavor profile as intense and layered,” Barthelmes says. “It starts with sweet flavors like vanilla and molasses, moving into some coffee and a charred characteristic from the barrel, finishing with some fig. And some folks have even tasted bacon on the finish.” Those layers reveal themselves even more as the cube slowly melts over time. Time—we waited four months for the components to come together; it won’t kill you to savor it slowly.
And while you’re at it …
A venerable cocktail with a mysterious and disputed past follows the Hanky Panky as beverage director Patrick Trundle’s barrel-aged cocktail project of the moment. Two parts St. George Spirits’ Terroir gin, 1 part Carpano Antica Formula sweet vermouth, ¼ part Luxardo Maraschino, and a healthy dash of Angostura bitters spends a minimum of five weeks in a 3-liter new American oak barrel before its debut, served up and with a lemon twist. $16, Andre’s in the Monte Carlo.
Mixologist/assistant beverage director Matt Myers adds intrigue to the classic barman’s favorite by combining one bottle each of Bombay Sapphire gin, Cinzano Rosso vermouth and Campari in a 2-liter American white oak barrel ($60, WineEnthusiast.com). After 30 days, the cocktail is stirred with ice and served up with a flamed orange zest. $14, Petrossian Bar and Sensi in Bellagio.