Some food, some drink.
Let the Barrel be your Bartender: How to age a Manhattan.
Y'know, sometimes even the guy mixing the drinks gets tired of manning the bar; and when I want something easy, I turn to a pre-mixed cocktail of my own design. For those who've made a minor investment in a mini white oak barrel, the convenience of storing Manhattans in its charred innards actually yields the additional benefits of further mellowing the drink while adding additional color and complexity to an already easy-sipping libation. While I'm not saying that a personal-sized oak barrel isn't a two (or three) out of ten on the practicality scale, there's no denying that it's sure fun to get all mad scientist while pouring bottles down the bunghole (technical term, honest!) in anticipation of what'll be on tap in a few short weeks!
It's no secret that I love me a drink. Booze is just part of the whole culinary experience, and often what's in that bottle could be exactly what's missing from a recipe (sorry, teetotalers). At any rate, I think mixology also appeals to me because of the instant gratification that a little measuring and pouring can bring to the constitution of a fella who spent a lot of time staring at test tubes in college.
A few months back, there was a sale over at OpenSky for a two-Liter handcrafted oak aging barrel (with spigot!). I happened to have some credit to burn, so what was a bit exorbitant suddenly became reasonable (as oak barrels are still mostly hand-made you tend to get what you pay for). I pulled the trigger already knowing what was going into my new hooch receptacle as soon as I got it: I'd be making Manhattans in bulk! Since my first sip of a decent rye whiskey, I've been hooked; hell I've even gone so far as to braise lamb chops in my cocktail. Suffice to say, the first batch was torture to wait on; and while I will admit to sampling a little every week, the final results are worth the four weeks' wait.
Recipe: Jump to the detailed recipe. (or, keep reading for the gist of it) -
Into the oak barrel already seasoned according to manufacturer's directions, pour in the rye, sweet vermouth, and bitters (you did close the tap first, didn't you?). Plug with the stopper and make sure it's good and snug. Every 7 days, roll the barrel 90 degrees so as to make sure that the all the insides of the barrel give equal time to your sippin' liquor.
After 28 days, pour 2.5 - 3 shots into a glass full of ice to stir and strain into a chilled glass; or kick it lazy like me and pour into a rocks glass with a few chunks of ice. Garnish with Maraschino cherries and maybe some orange zest.
- If OpenSky doesn't happen to be selling barrels at this very moment, you can always pay a little more and pick up the exact same thing via Amazon.
- Don't go thinking that when that barrel comes to your door that you can simply straight away start mixing. Oh no; you've got barrel conditioning to do first. A week's time in a warm spot of the house filled with water will not only take the ugly out of the barrel, but also works to hydrate the wood and seal up any fissures that might give the angels more than their share.
- You probably figured out that aging happens a helluva lot faster in a smaller barrel. It's all surface to mass ratio; that is to say there's a lot more wood in contact with the hooch in a smaller barrel than in its full-sized brethren.
- Rolling that barrel 90 degrees each week ensures that each quadrant of the barrel is used equally for aging. Otherwise, you're just squandering an opportunity for mo' mellow.
I hate to say it, but I reckon it's probably impossible to properly get into home bartending without adding a few "uniques" to your arsenal. I'm not saying that a there isn't an investment behind an aging barrel; and truthfully, as my mantra's alway been one of "publish stuff that everyone can do," I had reservations about sharing this post. But heck, I'm a sucker for a good gimmick, and if you have a home bar, there's not anything better than inviting folks over and hearing the inevitable "What's in there?" as your guests spy that cute little barrel sitting in your bar. In my mind, an aging barrel is a must if you like to entertain at the bar, and/or you love to sip on a strong drink.
Compared to a standard Manhattan, the barrel-aged mix is mellow with a capital M. I'd even venture to say that the barrel makes this particular cocktail taste more like it oughtta. I'm on my third batch of Manhattans in my little two-liter microcosm, and while I know you can age other beverages in there, I don't think I'm gonna. As lazy as it sounds, there are evenings where you're sooo busy that when it's time to wind down, it's just nice to be able to fill a rocks glass with ice and turn the spigot.
Before anyone gets their panties in a bunch about my letting the 5yo help me bartend: No, she never tasted any of the finished product (Sheesh; do I really even have to point that out?).
I will say however that I'm a firm believer in responsibility by way of sensible exposure. I don't want any "mystery of the unknown" to influence the choices that my kids will inevitably have to make when they get older; after all, a behavior is seldom seen as rebellious when said action is something you've grown up seeing (So ends my commentary on teaching your kids about alcohol and respoinsibility).