Friday, March 11, 2011

Barrel Aged Martinez Cocktail

I found out about barrel aging cocktails while reading Jeffrey Morgenthaler's blog. He had the experience visiting 69 Colebrooke Row in London, where he met Tony Conigliaro. Conigliaro had been aging all-spirit cocktails in glass containers without the aid of wood barrels to see if the flavors melded better over time, and if the slight oxidation of the vermouth or fortified wines improved the cocktail's flavor.

Morgenthaler took that idea and ran with it: he aged his own all-spirit cocktails in oak barrels, with the hopes of being able to round out their flavors and impart some of the wood's characteristics on spirits that typically aren't barrel aged (like gin, vodka, or aquavit).

I chose to use oak spirals in glass containers after reading Jamie Boudreau's blog about using wood chips (in lieu of a barrel) to infuse spirits. I immediately saw the upside to his technique; once you throw a cocktail in a barrel, that barrel is forever seasoned with those specific spirits. If I wanted to make more barrel-aged cocktails , I wouldn't want them all to taste like the barrel's previous occupant. Using glass containers with disposable oak spirals seemed like the perfect (not to mention most economical) compromise.

Now, the difficult part: choosing which cocktail to age.

One of my favorite stirred, spirit-forward gin cocktails is the Martinez. I thought this would make a good foray into barrel aging because, while the Old Tom Gin I'm using is already barrel aged, I specifically wanted to see how the vermouth would react to a few weeks' worth of oxidization. I also wanted to see how each spirit's flavors would react to one another after spending time sealed in a glass jar together. Adding the oak spirals would give the entire spirit another level of complexity, and I wanted to see if the cocktail as a whole was capable of picking up even more of the wood's characteristics.

I used a traditional Martinez recipe, which calls for Old Tom Gin, sweet vermouth, Maraschino liqueur, and orange bitters (though I subbed Angostura bitters). I combined all ingredients (save bitters) in a large glass container with an 8" heavy-char new American oak wooden spiral and aged the cocktail for about six weeks.

Overall, I think that this first experiment was relatively successful. The flavors seemed well integrated in a way I hadn't experienced by stirring alone. After an initial citrusy-orange nose (from the expressed orange peel garnish), the Martinez begins sweetly with the Maraschino liqueur. The midpalate has a malty spiciness thanks to the Old Tom Gin, and the cocktail is rounded out with a bitter cinnamon flavor from the Angostura Bitters.

As far as the oak spirals go, I'm looking forward to experimenting further with them -- though not right away. I have a few ideas that I'm saving for summer cocktails using spirits that haven't been barrel-aged at all.

The Barrel Aged Martinez is on The Whistler's current cocktail menu for $10.


  1. I tried a medium-heavy toasted wood chip cocktail aged in a mason jar. While the drink was good, I think that a light toast would have made a more complex drink instead of a burnt-wood flavored one.

    The allure of a quarter's worth of oak chips and doing it on a few drink scale was an advantage though. Never seen those spirals before.

  2. Can't wait to try this, Paul. I've been using the oak spirals pretty successfully in cider, mead and beer brewing and have been thinking of using them with spirits.