Cocktail trends come and go, but it seems like barrel aging is here to stay.
In New York City today, the number of bars and restaurants serving barrel-aged cocktails has shrunk, but those that still offer them have created libations that are complex, flavorful, and well worth the $20 they'll likely set you back. Barrel aging a pre-mixed cocktail allows the flavors to muddle, intensify, and pick up hints of wood as it sits in the cask, much in the same way whiskey does as it ages in a rickhouse. In order to do this successfully, you need ample supplies of both mixology experience as well as good, old-fashioned patience. After all, selecting the right ingredients, deciding which spirit will most benefit from aging, and having the forbearance to taste and wait, ad infinitum, is not for everyone. Below, some of the best places to find barrel-aged cocktails in New York City:
There are several steakhouses on this list, which makes sense, given the classic cocktail focus of many of these establishments' beverage programs. Taking drinks like the Old Fashioned and Manhattan, as beverage director of BR Guest Hospitality Richard Breitkreutz does, and letting them meld and mellow in a medium-toasted oak barrel for four to six weeks, takes these old standbys to another level. Strip House's Manhattan is made with McKenzie Rye, distilled in the Finger Lakes region of western New York State, while Breitkreutz prefers to switch up the whiskey used in the Old Fashioned from time to time. "There's a bit of the 'angel's share' that evaporates," he said. "That concentrates the flavor, and then everybody—all the ingredients—gets to know each other. It's a much smoother cocktail."
The Copper Still
If you're looking for a laid-back bar setting with a wide selection of barrel-aged cocktails, head on over to The Copper Still in New York City's East Village. Co-owner Brendan Clinkscales has unleashed his tippling imagination with drinks like The Inside Job, which mixes Evan Williams bourbon with St. Georges absinthe, and the Tipperary, blending Teeling Irish whiskey with Green Chartreuse. He ages the cocktails for anywhere from four to 14 weeks, and has up to 60 liters sitting in barrels at the bar at one time. "I like to use more classic cocktails for aging," says Clinkscales. "The spirits I've noticed seem to work best are whiskey, vermouth, gin, and liquors that are tart or earthy."
American Cut offers diners a very modern take on the steakhouse, with its sleek, dark atmosphere and beautiful marble bar. There, one can sidle on up and order a Barolo Barrel Negroni made with Plymouth gin, so called because the drink is aged in a Barolo-seasoned French oak barrel in the basement of the restaurant itself. This softens it around the edges and makes it a bit more palatable to the novice drinker, according to bartender Kevin Masterson, while offering Negroni fans a new and interesting take on an old favorite.
Tucked away in the West Village, Fedora sits unassumingly on a strip of West 4th Street just a few blocks from the bustling Sheridan Square. Besides a stellar menu that features items like sauteed mushrooms topped with a silken soft egg, the bar has a secret, off-menu barrel-aged drink that those in the know can order–and now that includes anyone who's reading this. It's called the Boothby Manhattan (named after famed San Francisco bartender William T. "Cocktail" Boothby). It was aged for about three months in a barrel, and has been sitting and settling in a bottle behind the bar for almost four years. It's a lovely drink, mild on the palate, and slightly fruity with just the right amount of alcoholic sting. Supplies are extremely limited, so head on over soon to drink one before it's gone forever.
Smith & Wollensky
Smith & Wollensky has been serving up expense account steakhouse fare since 1977. Nowadays you can enjoy a barrel-aged Manhattan along with your giant slab of medium rare porterhouse. Fourth Wall Restaurants bar director Bryan Schneider has created a lovely beverage made with a blend of vermouth that swirls around a Templeton Rye base spirit. Instead of aging the drink for a set amount of time and then bottling, the barrel is refilled as it empties, inspired by the solera system of whiskey aging. In effect, there's always a bit of starter liquid in every drink, adding to this cocktail's depth of flavor.
Tommy Bahama may be better known to many as a clothing line, but the company also has 15 restaurants in the United States and one in Japan. The New York City location happens to have a carefully thought-out, extensive barrel-aged cocktail program, with four tropically influenced selections currently on tap behind the Marlin Bar downstairs from the dining room. These include the Hole Mole, aged seven weeks and made from tequila, mezcal, Grand Marnier, and mole bitters; and the Rumhattan, aged six weeks and made with rum, maraschino liqueur, and Carpano Antica vermouth. The bar also makes its own sweet vermouth and spiced rum. "Our barrel-aged program," said general manager David Pogrebin, "goes along with our whole 'life should be one long weekend' mantra... It fits great into our concept, but it also fits into the city that has a thirst for things that are interesting and a little out of the ordinary."
Maloney & Porcelli
The last steakhouse on this list, Maloney & Porcelli—part of the same restaurant group as Smith & Wollensky—serves up what it calls a Kentucky Negroni. Bourbon is substituted for gin here, mixed with Dolin Blanc vermouth and Campari, and aged in house in charred American oak barrels. The resulting beverage is a pleasant mix of bitter, oak, and sweet, and it perfectly complements the meat-focused menu and the vintage whiskey bottles on display behind the bar.
Over the past few years, many restaurants and bars have sprung up in the Gowanus neighborhood of Brooklyn. One of the newest is Threes Brewing, a bar/brewery/event space that features a rotating kitchen residency. Five barrel-aged cocktails are currently on offer, something that general manager Nina Woolf calls "an ever growing experiment" on how different spirits react to barrel aging. "For example a very mediocre whiskey would likely take on missing characteristics that an oak barrel could provide and give it personality. Though, if we left gin to age too long it tasted almost like egg nog." The current menu features barrel-aged classics like the Negroni and Manhattan, as well as the less familiar Hanky-Panky, a drink that combines gin, Fernet, and sweet vermouth.
Saxon + Parole
Saxon + Parole, located in the East Village, advertises its menu as featuring various "grilled meats and aquatic delights." It should add "innovative barrel-aged cocktails" to that description. Currently the restaurant features a beverage created by acclaimed bartender Naren Young called the Prince Edward Cocktail. This Scottish-themed drink blends Chivas Regal, Lillet Blanc and Drambuie in an American oak barrel, infusing it with tannin and allowing it to mellow before being served with a dash of lemon bitters in a coupe glass.