Patience is a funny game. This week was the Boston Marathon and if there is one thing I learned from distance running and training for that race the last couple years, it is that you need to have it or develop it to be successful in that sort of activity. I had to run three separate marathons to manage to qualify, and each time that meant months of pretty disciplined workouts. I didn’t exactly live an austere life, but I definitely had to train hard and often. Let’s say it wouldn’t have fit into my training plan to write a blog like this one.
Of course, in all cases I was hoping for ideal weather conditions in order to achieve my best possible performance. For this week’s race (which I didn’t run this year), the temperatures were around 85 degrees. That’s definitely not ideal. Kudos to my friends who sweated it out and finished strong despite the rough conditions and the inevitable disappointment of not being able to reach their original time goals.
So what’s this got to do with liquor? Most cocktail making is pretty much immediate return on investment. You grab some elixirs and stir them together over ice, and wham, you find out whether or not it suits your palate or not. I’ve had plenty of fun making these drinks and tweaking them to find a better combination. But I’ve also really enjoyed the bitters part of this project. There is something just more satisfying to me about the process of working on something over time and seeing it transformed into something good.
I’m simplifying a bit. Even with the easiest drinks that I’ve made, years of effort went into making them. I just didn’t participate in the work that goes into distilling and deciding when something was ready. I’ve enjoyed trying different whiskies and wines that have been aged for different amounts of time and comparing which ones I’ve liked. Sometimes I’ve felt like the extra time has done good work, but I’ve also had situations where it didn’t seem to justify the added price.
It seems inevitable then that I’d be intrigued by this barrel aging cocktail trend. I don’t really know what to make of it yet. In some ways it seems redundant as presumably something like whisky has already been aged in wood. The spirits that are aged in a more neutral setting presumably have been done so for a reason. I’ve noticed them popping up on menus often now, and after the Sun Liquor class with Erik, my friend G found a couple reasonably priced 2 liter barrels on the web. I’d see some kits offered by the local distiller Woodinville Whisky Company, but those seemed like a bigger financial commitment. I figure if all these bartenders are trying it than there is a reason, although it could just be the chance to charge a bit more for another kind of premium drink.
G is a big fan of negronis and those seem to be popular to age, so he plans to make that. Is it any surprise that I chose a rye manhattan for my barrel? R always says that I’m predictable, so probably not. I chose Old Overholt for the rye and Punt e Mes for the vermouth. With some advice over Twitter from Canon and Liberty Bar, I added around 30 dashes of my apple bitters. I like a bit more rye in my manhattans so I used a 3:1 rye/vermouth ratio rather than the usual 2:1. I decided to not make the full 2 liters this time and only filled it halfway. After all, if it isn’t worth the trouble, then I won’t have wasted too much money on an unsuccessful drink. How long will it take to become something different?
I guess we’ll just have to wait and see.
Barrel aged Manhattan
750 ml of Old Overholt Rye
250 ml of Punt e Mes
30 dashes of apple bitters
Combine contents in a charred oak barrel. Store somewhere out of sunlight. Begin tasting after 2 weeks until contents take on a different character, likely around 4 to 6 weeks.