Barrel aging has brought us scotch and a lot of great wines, but the process has also made its way into the beer and cocktail markets — and, even better, your home.
Luckily, you don’t have to break into the Maker’s Mark headquarters to get your hands on your own barrel. New York-based distillery Tuthilltown Spirits, which produces Hudson Whiskey, among other products, has an online store where they sell DIY barrels that range from 1 liter to 5 liters and come with a stand and a spout (waist-high barrels are available, but you’d need a mortgage to fill one with premium ingredients). “Tuthilltown works closely with Black Swan Cooperage in Park Rapids, Minn.,” says Hudson Whiskey ambassador Han Shan. They’re actually a founding partner, and have regular access even when stock is dangerously low.
Of course, not everyone is going to love the idea of mixing a cocktail and having to wait eight weeks to drink it. But, after testing an edited Manhattan recipe, we found the results to be worth our time. Flavors start to develop after just a few days, and the right time to drain and filter the final product is really up to your own tastes. (Tip: It might be stating the obvious, but if you just want a hint of wood, don’t age for two months. And if you can’t get enough, be prepared to leave it be for some time.)
As for maintenance, before adding in the ingredients, you need to fill the barrel with water to make the wood swell. You’re going to have leaks until the staves swell properly, but it only takes about five minutes under the tap to solve the problem. Tuthilltown helps out with easy instructions and makes the whole process beginner-friendly. The only factor really in your control is how long and which ingredients you age.
Reusing yours is as easy as draining it, tossing a couple of treatment pills in, and filling it with water again before the next use. But a word of caution: whatever you last aged will impress upon the next batch. That can be an advantage, if you were to age a beer (like a stout or porter) after a batch of Manhattans, but it might not always work out in your favor.
[$60-$96 each; store.tuthilltown.com]
How to Mix a Barrel-Aged Manhattan:
- 2 liters whiskey
- 1 liter sweet vermouth
In a 3-liter barrel combine 2 liters of whiskey and 1 liter of sweet vermouth, then top off with bitters of your choice (we prefer orange). Test every two days or so and adjust as needed.