Oak Barrel Seasoning Before Cocktail Aging

cocktails from oak aging barrelsUnlike most cocktail fans, I have always been interested in oak barrel seasoning and newly charred oak barrels.  I totally get why an avid whiskey drinker, for example, might find aging spirits at home to be attractive.  It is truly magical what can happen when you place spirits in a barrel that has been properly seasoned.  The idea of aging cocktails did appeal to me.  However, the char and tannins in a new barrel can overwhelm a cocktail’s delicate flavors.  Before getting your cocktail started in the barrel you must first season your oak barrel in preparation.

To age cocktails, the oak aging barrel you are going to use first must be seasoned.  Oak barrel seasoning must be done by first barrel-aging the spirits.  The best option comes from aging a white overproof spirit.  I immediately thought of white rum.  The obvious choice seemed to be Bacardi 151 for standing in a new barrel.  The gamines of the rum had mellowed after 6 1/2 weeks.  The grassiness mingled thoroughly with the oak barrel seasoning, and the molasses notes had become deeper.  A nice vanilla flavor developed.  The Bacardi that had been barrel-aged went down very smooth, although the aftertaste still has the telltale heat of a 151 proof rum.

With the barrel now empty, I thought it must be time to prepare a two liter batch of cocktails.   Maybe it wouldn’t be such a bad idea to have another spirit round.  Whenever a spirit gets put into a barrel, some of it disappears.  It isn’t all just evaporation.  Some of the spirit gets soaked up by the wood of the barrel, forever changing the barrel and providing it with oak barrel seasoning.  Whatever is put into the barrel next is affected.  For example, if a white whiskey is barrel aged, then the barrel is filled with gin, there will be whiskey flavors incorporated into the flavor of the gin.  However, the flavor of the barrel isn’t constant.

The rum was almost complete when I was accidentally inspired by the Pisco, the indigenous spirit of Peru.  It seemed to be the ideal choice for barrel aging following rum.  Pisco is a spirit based on white grapes and has a lot of flavor.  The major differences are based on distilled strength and grape variety.  Usually Piscos are distilled to proof, or distilled just once.  This gives Piscos a very funky taste.  I was interested in how the funky taste would react with oak barrel seasoning.  A funky white spirit put into a barrel usually provides a very interesting result.  The oak barrel seasoning wouldn’t be the only thing affecting the Pisco.  The Bacardi 151 flavors  would be playing a part as well.

The Pisco, after six weeks, resembled straw.  The flavors had evolved into something new.  Hints of vanilla and oak were apparent, along with the grape flavor and aroma.  The ultimate test was to see how it would work as a cocktail.  The cocktail works quite well with non-aged Pisco.  However, the vanilla and oak barrel seasoning really give an added dimension to the flavor.

I love hearing from our customers and getting some good ideas of what you are aging out there. Be sure to send pics with your email. Who knows I may give you a shout-out here on our website.  steve@redheadbarrels.com