Thursday, January 20, 2011

Barrel-aged cocktails: the next big thing

 Bonnie & Clyde at left; Cortez the Killer at right.
Last week I finally tried the next big thing in cocktails: barrel-aged cocktails.

Blackbird, on Market St. in San Francisco, started barrel-aging Martinez cocktails (the cocktail that evolved into the Martini) last fall, but sold out because everyone needed to try them. So now they have two new ones.

The Bonnie & Clyde is excellent and shows why one would want to barrel-age a cocktail in the first place -- to smoothly integrate the components in a way that a quick shake with ice simply cannot do.

An interesting aspect of this drink is that the base spirit -- High West Silver Whiskey -- was never aged in wood barrels, so that keeps the drink from getting a double dose of wood. High West is actually made in Utah, which is akin to making pork sausage in Israel.

The Utah whiskey is blended with Dolin white vermouth, an organic chamomile liqueur and baked apple bitters that came from a bartending specialty supplier.

What was best about it is that, if I couldn't see the ingredients written on the wall, I would have been guessing for a while. It had apple and chamomile notes, and the whiskey was so well-integrated that the drink had body but no bite at all.

The cocktail is made up in large batches and then aged in used rye barrels for four weeks. Some of the alcohol evaporates, so it's actually lower in proof than a freshly made version would be.

Blackbird's other barrel-aged cocktail showed the hazard of four weeks of aging together. It has a great name, Cortez the Killer, but is so dominated by Luna Azul Blanco Tequila that it's hard to taste even echoes of the other two spirits, one of which (Bonal Gentiane Quina Aperitif) is particularly delicate. That drink also has an overly woody taste; I left most of it on the bar.

San Francisco is not at the forefront of this trend; Robert Simonson wrote in the New York Times last month that it came from Portland via Australia.

Unfortunately for my readers in the wine industry, it's hard to imagine repurposing a used wine barrel in this way; they're just too big. But maybe I'm not ambitious enough. Cocktails for 1000, anyone?


Sally - My Custard Pie said...

The Bonnie and Clyde sounds fabulous - I think you're just dragging your heels...what's wrong with cocktails for 1000 anyway?

Cal Craik said...

Standard 225L wine barrels may be a bit big but there are smaller barrels readily available (23, 46 and 114L). Have a look at