The use of barrels is an ancient necessity. In a time long ago it was just how you got your wine or brew from one hamlet to the next. The nuanced flavors of oak on those archaic libations was more a product of logistics than thoughtful consideration. But, whatever the intent, that wonderful happenstance created an insatiable taste for oak in wine, beers, spirits, and even finished cocktails. Wineries boast of their use of new oak, the US commands by law you use it to make Bourbon, local brew-masters age their stouts in them, and not long ago at Clyde Common in Portland, OR oak barrels found their way behind the bar.
A couple months ago Dustin Saide, bar manager at PRHYME Downtown Steakhouse, and myself worked up our first barrel aged cocktail. It was a blend of French, Canadian, and American whiskeys mixed with sweet vermouth in a typical Manhattan style and aged 5 weeks in a small 5 liter barrel. We called it The Acadian and upon serving this delight we would finish it with a dash of Louisiana’s Peychaud’s Bitters. The drink was an elegant expression of the classic cocktail with the time in barrel allowing the harmonious blend of whiskeys and vermouth to take on that subtle and delicious nuance of oak. It isn’t always the case but this cocktail, like the vessel it was aged in, was linked to history. Acadians were French colonist who settled and lived in eastern Canada and were expelled during the Great Expulsion by the British during the Seven Years War. Many settled in Louisiana, specifically New Orleans. The Acadian draws inspiration from the unique whiskey styles of France, Canada, and the US. A touch of Peychaud’s brings the heart of the cocktail home to Louisiana where my, and all Acadians’, roots run deep.
Five liters didn’t last long but we had other incarnations working. The Barreled Bijou held the seat until we could age The Acadian again, this time is a 27 liter barrel. Bottled a few days ago it’s as elegant as ever. We’ve found a few more barrels to play with and a couple more cocktails are aging now. Soon we’ll tell you about a series of barrel aged cocktails inspired by local burrows, first up Brady Heights, and we have a tequila aging as well, margaritas anyone?