Aging cocktails in wood barrels can soften harsh edges and add layers of flavor. Plus, the results make a remarkable holiday gift. Here's why to get started right now.Plus: America's Best Bars


How to make barrel-aged cocktails.Photo © Lucas Allen.

I usually keep files on the shelf behind my desk. But recently, I made room for a few cute little wooden casks filled with cocktails. It was part of my investigation into the barrel-aged-cocktail trend, in which bartenders fill casks with premixed drinks and let the flavors develop over several weeks. “In a good barrel-aged cocktail, you can still taste the drink, but it’s more integrated, with oaky flavors of vanilla and caramel,” says Jeffrey Morgenthaler. At Clyde Common in Portland, Oregon, Morgenthaler ages gallons of cocktails, but his recipes also work with the tiny casks available online for under $100. Following his instructions makes for a fascinating—and delicious—look at how wood and air can change a drink. Tasting strawfuls of my cocktails each week, I noticed the flavors becoming more harmonious, the harsh edges softening. Now is a good time to start barrel-aging cocktails for the holidays: You can set out a mini barrel in place of the usual punch bowl at parties, pour aged cocktails into glass bottles as gifts or give a whole barrel to a cocktail-obsessed friend.

Source Tip

You can find 1-, 2-, 3- and 5-liter barrels at ($60 to $96).

Tasting Tip

When aging cocktails, remember that smaller, newer barrels work faster than larger, used ones. The trick is to taste every week until you get the gently oaked flavor you want. “There’s definitely a sweet spot,” says mixologist Jeffrey Morgenthaler.

Barrel-Aging Tip

“You can get a lot of use out of one barrel,” says Jeffrey Morgenthaler. “For example, if you age a Manhattan and then immediately use the same barrel for a Negroni, the Negroni will pick up some of the Manhattan’s flavor—and that can be a cool thing.”