How to age an Old Fashioned Cocktail in a Oak Barrel…? Good Question. I am by no means an expert but fortunately for me, my experience went great and the cocktail turned out to be maybe the best Old Fashioned I have ever had. So… that being said, I can certainly tell you how I managed to make that happen and try and help you out!
First thing first, I recommend you to read multiple people’s articles about different experiences because chances are, everyone’s barrel and ingredients are going to be a little different.
So… To start off, I used a 8 Litre (2 gallon) Ex-Sherry Barrel. Reason being, ordering a new oak barrel to Edmonton, Alberta is not an easy task as there are no reputable manufacturers close so by the time it was shipped to me, it would have been past the tasting it was intended for and I was not that proactive and also have a tendency to procrastinate and to try and accomplish things last minute. Luckily for me, when I reached out to some friends, it just so happened my pal, Whisky Joe had just ordered a handful of smaller barrels for a crazy Tullibardine aging experiment (we will get into that story another day). Anyways, the barrel that I was able to get my hands on from Joe, like I mentioned, is ex-sherry and not new oak, but because it had to meet certain health codes prior to being shipped here, it had already been thoroughly rinsed and prepared. As far as I understand, this allowed me to skip an important step of having to clean the barrel beforehand but, I still filled the barrel with warm water, letting it sit for a few hours to make sure there wasn’t any leaks. If you are using a previously used barrel then please search around for cleaning and rinsing techniques prior to dumping in your ingredients. If you are using a new oak barrel then there will most likely be some simple preparation instructions that come with it.
The Cocktail…. mmmmm
When it comes to selecting your whiskey cocktail, you want to stick to the ones without any perishable ingredients that will go bad during the aging process. Personally, I love a good Old Fashioned so it was a natural choice for me. Other good options are, a Boulevardier, Manhattan, Vieux Carre, Sazerac, Rob Roy or similar. You also have to be careful with using simple syrup, especially if it home made as the shelf life at room temperature isn’t a long one. Store bought syrup tends to last quite a bit longer or using maple syrup which is what I did, works a lot better. I wouldn’t recommend aging the cocktail longer than 3 – 4 weeks though when there are sugars in the ingredients. Also, keep in mind, you don’t need to use as much syrup as a recipe normally states. You will draw sweetness and complexity out of the wood and you will not want to mask those flavours with the extra sugar. For mine, because it was an ex-sherry barrel, I used about 1/2 of the quantity I normally would, knowing that the sherry was also going to contribute to the sweetness. I also matched my syrup quantity with water, pouring in equal parts of both so that the cocktail wouldn’t become too concentrated after the aging process.
From there, it’s just a matter of picking your favorite lower shelf whiskey and your bitters of choice. Calculate the quantity of ingredients according to the volume of barrel and start pouring it all in!
Make sure to set the barrel in a place slightly cooler than room temperature and out of the sunlight and then make sure to be taste testing you cocktail every 4 or 5 days to make sure you don’t miss the mark and over age it.
The reason I decided to do this in the first place was to pour out for our Park Whiskey Society members at our most recent tasting. Usually I am making cocktails for everyone after the tasting with the help of my buddy David, but the idea of just pouring it all out into a dispenser and having everyone pour their own drinks for the evening was a pretty awesome one. I was pretty nervous at first but also confident because lucky for me, I consume a lot of cocktails and was relatively sure that, if it tasted good for me then it was going to taste good for everyone else. Lets just say… it was a massive success! Well… at least the fogginess and empty barrel can suggest so. Like I mentioned, one of the best Old Fashioned Cocktails I have ever had. The sherried wood lent such a beautiful character, creating a bold flavoured, yet very smooth cocktail.
This was seriously a ton of fun and something I definitely recommend trying and will be doing again!
If you have any questions please reach out and I’ll be glad to help! Cheers everyone!