Barrel-Aging Cocktails at Home

By David Reed

Looking for a great way to enhance your home spirits collection or add some unique creativity to your next party or gathering? Barrel-aging your own cocktails is a simple and easy way to make sophisticated cocktails without doing much work. All you need is to purchase a 1, 2, 3 or 5- liter barrel, find a barrel-appropriate cocktail recipe and time.

Barrel-aging works best with smaller barrels (1-3 liters) when you desire the fastest time to age your cocktail or spirit with the fullest white oak flavor and character. You can purchase barrels online from many retailers. Just remember, you’ll need to follow the instructions to the “T” before starting your home barrel-aging process. Every new oak barrel needs to be pre-treated and conditioned with water for about a week!

At Establishment Midtown, we prefer the 3-liter oak barrels for quicker aging turnaround. We barrel-age everything from our Award-Winning Angel’s Envy Manhattan, vodkas, Vespers, Genevers and more. What’s great is, you can literally barrel-age a single spirit or a cocktail. We taste each batch on a weekly basis to make sure we are getting the flavor qualities good enough to sell across the bar, so be sure to sample your barreled batch often and adjust accordingly in controlled ratios.
Stick to the basics.

When barrel-aging, my personal must-not-dos are the following:

  1. Never age a cocktail with juices. Juices spoil, hence, so will your cocktail.
  2. Avoid aging cocktails requiring syrups or other non-spirit ingredients. Things like simple syrup or shrubs, in our opinion, taint the barrel, but we are also seeing people age cocktails like the Old Fashioned in barrels. We prefer to add the sugar or simple syrup to the barrel-aged whiskey as a step after the aging process when we make a barreled Old Fashioned to order.
  3. Never deviate from proper cocktail recipe ratios when first batching a barrel of a cocktails. For example: A Manhattan is a ratio of 2:1 whiskey to vermouth. Follow those rules when initially making the batch, THEN, after a few days, you can modify ratios or add bitters to get the flavorful balance you so desire.
  4. This isn’t a must-not-do, but be careful changing cocktails once you’ve barrel-aged in it. The barrel will pick up all the flavors and characteristics you use inside. So, it’s a bit risky to age a Manhattan for 3 weeks and then attempt a barrel-aged Vesper (gin and vodka).

If you are a first-time barrel-aging bartender, stick to the classics. These classic recipes are tried and true and familiar. The ratio measurements are proven. Then, give your barrels about 3-6 weeks of aging in a cool or room temperature setting.

After a few weeks, your barrel-aged cocktail is ready to unveil. It’s the perfect centerpiece for a rehearsal dinner party, bachelor party, or poker night. Barrel-aging is the perfect way to add a little more flavor to your home bar collection. Cheers!