Cocktails Aged Gracefully

Amy Kundrat

Barrel aged cocktails have arrived in Connecticut. And for a song, Saugatuck Grain & Grape in Westport will bring you one step closer to making your very own sixty day-old Manhattan, Negroni or any spirit-driven cocktail that your heart may desire.

In a culture that typically prizes the fresh and made-to-order, aging cocktails may sound sacrilege. So what exactly is a barrel aged cocktail and why mess with a good thing?

A barrel aged cocktail is any combination of spirits that enjoys an extended stay inside a barrel, and in SG&G’s case, a charred oak barrel. This process can take anywhere from a few weeks to a few of months, depending on your preference.

As for the motive, barrel aging is all about flavor. What may seem uptight and springy fresh from a shaker, appears loose and mellow after a few weeks sitting in oak. During a recent visit to SG&G, I wrangled a taste of a one-month old Negroni from Jeff Marron’s private stash that was just ripe for the picking. The cocktail, my current obsession, was remarkably smooth with hints of burnt caramel and vanilla. It was a classic transformed, and a harbinger of the hours of R&D Marron undertook in expanding SG&G’s offerings in this new direction.

And let’s consider the company. Many wines and spirits such as scotch exude a complexity of flavor that only time and the character of wood casks can impart. Apply this to a cocktail, and you’ve arrived at a sort of kismet for cocktail culture. Barrel aging as a way to move cocktailing forward without adding elements but transforming them.

This trend can be traced back to Portlandia, er Portland, Oregon, and well-known bartender Jeffrey Morgenthaler who shared his barrel-aged drinks and recipes on his blog helped to help pave the way for the experimentation. Coupled with Grant Achatz's research for Aviary, and the rest as they say, is history.

So if you’re patient and of the DIY persuasion, SG&G is selling all the components to experiment with your own barrel aged cocktail. Specifically they will sell you the spirits, the oak barrel (about $80 for a 5 liter) and share their recipes and expertise to make your own barrel aged cocktail. The oak barrels come empty and dry with a medium char. Each barrel must then be water-proofed. Recommended cocktails for the newbie are strictly spirit-driven cocktails, which means no fruit, no dairy and definitely no creamy liqueurs.

Think Negroni and Manhattan and possibly a Long Island Iced Tea which Jeff is experimenting with presently. Once you’re battle ready, Jeff will guide you through how to waterproof your cask, and coach you in the mixing process.

But the taste-testing, that is all you.