When we drank at Canon in Seattle a few years ago, both the Doctor and I enjoyed their barrel aged cocktails, which were served in little bottles of their own. It was a new and interesting take on making cocktails that we hadn’t heard of before, and we found them very tasty.
Then, last Christmas, the Doctor got me a fun little cocktail aging kit, from Tuthilltown Spirits. It’s a nice little 375-ml bottle that comes with a few charred oak staves. The idea is, you mix up a batch of a cocktail, then let it rest for two weeks in the bottle. It’s a “barrel aging kit” – even though there’s no barrel involved – because of the staves, which are intended to replicate the flavor given by the charred interior of a barrel (they are honeycombed to increase the surface area in contact with the liquid). Basically, by putting a stave in the bottle with your mixed drink, you can give it a barrel-aged taste without needing an actual barrel.
So far, it’s been a lot of fun to play with. The kit comes with several drink recipes, most of which use white whiskey or gin as a base so that you can really see the drink change. I’ve done some experimenting with it beyond that, though – a few bourbon/rye cocktails; a couple times skipping the staves and just using the bottle to rest and mellow the drink.
Bottle aging a cocktail can sometimes change a drink, as the ingredients have a chance to meld, and the flavors to blend. Apparently that’s been going on for decades, with old mixology books describing the trick, but the newer (and uniquely American) take is to use the barrel.
I’ve now gone through all 5 staves the kit shipped with, and I intend to order more. The staves really are the core of the kit, as otherwise it’s just a bottle designed to hold just the right amount of spirit for the stave. Really, you could even just order a “replacement” set of staves and do this with your own bottle, assuming you have one with the right volume and opening… and those aren’t too hard to come by. Of course, the replacement staves aren’t all that much cheaper than a full kit, so if you’re looking to do this as a gift, as the Doctor did for me, the kit is the more attractive option.
I’m now considering getting a couple more sets of staves, and making use of a recently emptied 375 ml bottle from Tuthilltown to age two cocktails at a time. The aging time for most cocktails is two weeks, which means with two going at once, the Doctor and I could have an aged cocktail ready every weekend.
I’ve also been holding on to the used staves for a possible use in a cocktail bitters project I’m planning. Unlike a whiskey barrel, which you can get two or three good agings out of, these staves are pretty much used up for aging purposes after a single use. Even my experiment using two “spent” staves at once to try and get a little more out of them was unsuccessful. But for bitters…I see potential.