It feels like just yesterday that we featured the Manhattan, one of the world’s simplest and most perfect cocktails. But it turns out that was all the way back in May, about eight months ago. Which goes to show how quickly you can lose track of time when you have a full plate at home. Ahem and anyway. As I was saying, the Manhattan is pretty much perfect just the way it is, but there is one way you can improve on that perfection: barrel aging. It’s easier than it sounds, and plenty worth it, so give it a try. – Andrew
Illustration by Shauna Lynn for Oh So Beautiful Paper
8 oz Bourbon and Rye Whiskey
4 oz Sweet Vermouth
8 Dashes Aromatic Bitters
Combine the whiskey, vermouth, and bitters in a glass bottle. Add in a barrel-aging stave (more on this later). Wait as long as you can – give it a week at least, and longer if you can stand it. When you’re ready to serve, pour out a few ounces over ice and enjoy!
A Manhattan is a fantastic drink, oaky and spicy and richly masculine. A barrel-aged Manhattan is even better: all of those things but even more complex, adding additional woody notes and smoothing out any rough edges. A barrel-aged Manhattan is a tremendously mellow drink, with deeply rich flavors. It’s worth the wait.
I had my first barrel-aged Manhattan at District Commons, one of our favorite DC restaurants (make sure to get the pretzel bread with beer mustard butter). This was ages ago, but I loved it so much that I’ve been meaning to make one ever since. Then Nole got me a glass decanter, the perfect size for aging a small batch of cocktails, and some barrel-aging staves for Christmas, because she’s the best. So I finally got my chance.
Like District Commons, I made mine with a blend of different bourbon and rye whiskeys – this sort of project is perfect for using up the last little bit from the bottles of whiskey in your bar (you know, so you can use them up faster and make room for new bottles). I’m a big fan of Dolin’s sweet vermouth and Fee Brothers Old Fashioned Aromatic Bitters for my Manhattans, but I recommend playing around with ingredients until you find the combination that works best for you.
There are a couple of ways of barrel aging a cocktail. You could, if you wanted to make a lot, buy an actual barrel, like one of these from Tuthilltown Spirits. The smallest starts at a liter, so this is something of an investment – but could be totally worth it if you really love the cocktail you’re aging. A barrel of aged cocktail could also make for a fantastic gift for another cocktail enthusiast. (Just make sure to soak the barrel in water before you pour in your cocktail ingredients, or you risk having your cocktail seep our all over your counter.)
Or, you could go the more modest, and much easier route for smaller batches: barrel-aging staves for steeping in a bottle of spirits. Tuthilltown Spirits, again, sells really handy wooden staves, fire-charred and carved to maximize surface area. Yeah, this is the sort of thing you could make yourself if you wanted, but at a few bucks a pop, I think they’re worth it.
Photo Credits: Nole Garey for Oh So Beautiful Paper