Aged and Bitter

Bartenders are revving up spirits with beer and barrel aging techniques

As the cocktail industry pushes the bar to new levels, bartenders are experimenting with long established ingredients and methodologies, like beer and barrel aging, in unconventional ways.

Widely regarded as the U.S. ambassador for the barrel-aged cocktail trend, bar manager Jeffrey Morgenthaler of Clyde Common in Portland, Ore., imported the concept after spotting it during a trip to London in 2009.

Morgenthaler pre-mixes classic cocktails like Manhattans and Negronis, then transfers them to whiskey or bourbon barrels that seasons the spirits' flavors.

“All of my barrel-aged cocktails are in barrels no more than eight weeks, and most are in for about four weeks,” he says. “Any longer and they start to lose focus.”

The trend has hit the mainstream with kits available to the public, such as Woodinville Whiskey Co.’s Age Your Own Whiskey kit, which costs $149.99 and can be used to age the barrel with whiskey and reused to barrel age cocktails.

Beer is also taking off in the cocktail world at places like New York’s Experimental Cocktail Club, where rising bar star Aaron Butler has played with it as an ingredient for about five years.

His Letter of Marque cocktail blends a hoppy Brooklyn Brewery IPA with herby Plymouth Gin, bitters and a squeeze of lemon. The drink won the silver medal at this year’s Marie Brizard Cocktail Competition in New York.

Getting the balance in a beer cocktail just right is a delicate process, Butler says, “but made well, they can be a fabulous addition to any cocktail list.”

David Ransom is a New York-based spirits writer.