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Barrel Aged Cocktails Without the Barrel

Oak InfusionLet's jump right in with the details: We are using toasted oak chips and a charred oak stick in a mason jar to age scaled-up portions of our favorite drink recipes. The results are—in a word—amazing. We could also say surprising, or even easy. Given the fact that we have done true barrel-aging in the past, we were pleased to discover this time-saving alternative that produces results that are similar, if not better than the traditional method. It's so simple, in fact, that we plan to keep it going so that we always have aged, pre-mixed cocktails in the house. This is also so much more satisfying given the limited investment. It's hard to justify not doing this. If you have been thinking about making barrel-aged cocktails but haven't had a chance to track down a barrel—or perhaps you don't want to spend the money on a large quantity of ingredients—look no further than your local home-brew or wine making shop for the materials and try our inexpensive alternative to using an actual oak barrel.

The Details
You will need:

1 mason jar with a lid
oak chips, toasted
oak stick, toasted and charred
a cocktail recipe scaled to 750ml
a clean, 750ml bottle for storage (optional—you could use the jar above)

Aging in glass is nothing new—aged, bottled cocktails definitely have merit on their own. But oak provides an important contribution of flavor from the wood that you can't get any other way. Consider a bottle of bourbon. During the aging process of whiskey production, toasted and charred American white oak gives bourbon most of its flavor and all of its color. In the summer months of Kentucky, for example, corn distillate that is destined to become bourbon sits in storage rickhouses, sealed inside huge oak barrels. As the seasons pass, the spirit moves in and out of the walls of the barrel taking some of the resinous flavor from the wood with it. Notes of vanilla, caramel, spices—these all come from the charred and toasted oak. When we age a cocktail the time may be a lot shorter but the effect is similar—especially when using smaller barrels like the ones we have used in the past. But honestly, we don't see the point any more. Our little experiment proves that you can achieve fantastic results in a fraction of the time using oak chips and a charred stick!

Wine Not Try It?
Wine makers also use toasted oak barrels, although they are typically not charred. Recently, home wine makers and professional vintners have explored the use of toasted oak chips in lieu of using an entire barrel. Chips have the benefit of being cheaper, smaller, and the additional surface area acts faster upon the wine while it is racked in glass or stainless steel. Despite losing a little romance and tradition, avoiding the steps associated with filling, draining, moving, and storing barrels makes wine production much easier. In essence, instead of putting the wine into barrels, they are putting barrels into the wine.

Charred OakWe can do the same thing with a cocktail, but toasted chips only gets us halfway there. Whiskey barrels are toasted and charred, and we want the flavors of both. Fortunately, we can still take advantage of oak products sold at homebrewing shops. In addition to selling toasted chips which work very quickly, you can also buy staves or sticks of toasted oak for longer infusions. Some of these larger products have notches or spiral carvings along their length designed to create more surface area. Our trick is to use both chips and a stick, and since the oak products are already toasted, all we need to do is add some char. We bought a small bag of medium-toasted American white oak chips for a few dollars and a 15-inch stick of French oak. We will use the chips as-is and add some char to the stick.

Next, we cut a five inch piece off of the stick so it can fit inside a mason jar. This stick will serve as our charred oak "walls" and the jar will be our glass barrel. We used a plumber's propane torch to char the stick on all sides. It only takes a few seconds to get a decent char on the wood, but you could also put it on the grill and probably get good results. Since our stick was just a straight, toasted square dowel, before charring we cut some notches with a hand saw to create more surface area. Maybe it helps.

With a charred stick ready to go, we added it to our mason jar along with a few tablespoons of toasted chips. Together, the charred stick and oak chips will quickly infuse our cocktail with oak barrel flavors. We calculated the quantities for a 750ml Boulevardier as follows:

Boulevardier (scaled to 750ml)
11 oz bourbon
7.25 oz sweet vermouth
7.25 oz Campari

Carefully measure the ingredients as you add them to a quart mason jar. When finished, this batch will fit into an empty booze bottle (we hang on to clear bottles with plastic screw caps or corks). Take your charred stick and drop it into the jar. Then, add 1/2 oz by weight of toasted oak chips. This is about two tablespoons of chips. You don't have to be exact, but this amount worked well for a week of aging. You will get a taste of the wood from the chips and a bit of char from the stick. Because your chips may be different, or your char may be more or less pronounced than ours, you definitely will want to taste a sample after a few days to see how it's progressing. Ours went exactly seven days and it was perfect. Strain out any bits of wood as you transfer the cocktail into a bottle for storage. Getting the wood out of your cocktail will stop the aging process. Don't leave the oak for too long, as the flavors will continue to intensify and could ruin the batch. Save the charred stick and let it air-dry for the next infusion. You could do the same with the chips but it's probably not worth the effort. You use so little in each batch and the chips are cheap enough that it probably makes more sense to just toss them. It also helps to have a repeatable, known start to each infusion rather than wondering how much oak flavor is left.

This technique was so easy and fast that we immediately tried another recipe. It would have been more interesting to try something with a completely different flavor profile to get some carryover via the oak stick like you might in a barrel, but we went with another bitter cocktail we love:

Eeyore's Requiem (scaled to 750ml)
10.75 oz Campari
7.25 oz Dolin Blanc vermouth
5.75 oz gin
2 oz Cynar
2 oz Fernet-Branca
8 dashes orange bitters

Give "easy" barrel aging a try. The technique is basically a charred-oak infusion, but the results are fast, and the cocktails taste absolutely delicious. You can also do individual ingredients like the cedar infused Campari we made for the Hunting Vest cocktail.

Batches and Bowls

Oleo Saccharum

Whether you are prepping for a weekend party or a spring picnic (we are probably several months early for that), you may be looking for ways to enjoy the event and the company of your guests without spending time mixing individual cocktails on request. Beer and wine are easy options, but you shouldn't have to sacrifice good flavors and quality ingredients just because you'd rather join the party instead of busily shaking craft cocktails. As log as you are willing to do some preparation a day or so ahead of time, you don't need to play bartender. We are talking about batched cocktails—a common request we get from friends who are either searching for the perfect recipe or are interested in techniques they can leverage to make the process easier once guests arrive.

For us, the Super Bowl refers to any vessel large enough to hold a batch of Philadelphia

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Bourbon Bijou

Bourbon Bijou

Park Kitchen in Portland, Oregon makes a lovely drink they call the Bourbon Bijou. You may recall the Bijou cocktail we posted several years ago which is the inspiration for this whiskey-based variation. The original is a gin drink with over a century of history, whereas this one is a modern riff. We like them both because they are tasty and easy to make. That translates to "no fresh anything required" which means you can throw one together for yourself or a guest while you consider more involved alternatives. It's also a spirit-driven recipe for bolder palates (which is perfect for us) and another excuse to use Chartreuse.

Bourbon Bijou at Park Kitchen, Portland, OR 1 oz bourbon 1 oz green Chartreuse 1 oz Cocchi Di Torino Italian vermouth 1 dash 50/50 orange bitters

Add all to a mixing glass and stir with ice until cold. Strain into

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Green Glacier

Green Glacier

Here's a drink we jotted down several years ago while reading about Chartreuse. It's no secret that this complex herbal elixir is a favorite at Summit Sips—as it is among most cocktail fanatics. One of the more interesting ways to use it is to add a little green Chartreuse to a mug of hot cocoa and top with lightly whipped cream. The Verte Chaud, as Jamie Boudreau calls it, is a combination so wonderfully delicious that it once inspired us to spend an entire afternoon making Chartreuse-flavored chocolate truffles. However, making gourmet candy or even good hot chocolate isn't always practical (forget powder—think melted high-quality bittersweet chocolate, warmed milk or cream, etc.). So, when we read a post by Mr. Boudreau some years back describing a seemingly ridiculous and indulgent cold cocktail that used brandy and creme de cacao in lieu of hot chocolate, we

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Naked and Famous

Naked and Famous Detail

There's a great passage in the new Death & Co cocktail book that describes the process they use for vetting new additions to the menu. It's basically an interactive taste test with one bartender whipping up a new drink and all of the others making suggestions about proportions or ingredients. It helped us realize that perfecting a new recipe is often an iterative process, and settling on a final list of ingredients can be collaborative, but requires that one has access to (if not knowledge of) a vast array of possibilities. Sure, it's possible to hit incredible combinations right off the bat, but craft cocktail bars can even explore alternative brands allowing a recipe to be perfected to an extreme that most customers probably never realize—and it doesn't always lead to choices that are the most expensive or obscure.

Here's an agave recipe that caught our eye from the

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First Word

First Word

Several years ago we wrote about the Last Word cocktail. If you haven't had the pleasure, you really should give it a try, especially if you are already a fan of the Aviation. Besides having a name befitting any New Year's Eve celebration, the Last Word contains some of our favorite ingredients—Luxardo Maraschino liqueur and green Chartreuse. As we transition from the end of one calendar year to the beginning of another, we decided to post a similar cocktail that we recently tried at one of our favorite restaurants in Portland, Oregon.

The First Word cocktail was featured on the fall menu at Toro Bravo. A little research will reveal that it's not an original name. There are several First Word recipes out there and none of them resembles this one.

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Travel Cocktail Kit

Travel Cocktail Kit with Recipe Card

Not long ago, someone sent us the link to a clever gift item called the Carry On Cocktail Kit. We checked the link, read the descriptions, viewed the pictures and decided to make our own. To be fair, we haven't actually had our hands on one of these commercial kits, as they are still listed as a pre-order item on the website, but we did consider placing an order. It's basically a tin box that you toss into your carry-on baggage when traveling that enables you to construct two Old Fashioned cocktails while in-flight. For only $24 it seems like a reasonable price to pay for such a fun item. The idea alone is fantastic, but we immediately started thinking about ways we could improve upon it. We decided it would be a fun project and that we could share our results and hopefully stir up a bit of

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