You may have heard of Jeffrey Morgenthaler. You may have even heard about his expertise in barrel aging cocktails. I had, and he was one of the major inspirations for my trip out to Portland. I visited his bar at Clyde Common to get on a first name basis with one of his barrel aged Negronis. Well worth the trip and well worth the effort to recreate it in my own bar. As a cocktail enthusiast, it’s hard not to get excited about barrel aging cocktails, and the Negroni is the perfect candidate for some age-induced rounding and mellowing. Not only does barrel aging smooth out your cocktail, it also softens the mouth feel. You’ll definitely pick up woody and vanilla flavors from the oak as well. The cocktail also oxidizes over time which changes the flavor profile, bringing out some nutty flavors.
The Negroni is a hard sell at my bar. Unfortunately, people don’t tend to order gin drinks, let alone gin drinks with Campari. Don’t slaughter me in the comments for this departure from the traditional recipe, but I adapted my Negroni recipe to tone it down in an effort to ease my patrons into this bitter classic. This could also translate well to a situation where you’re entertaining guests at home. I went from the classic equal parts recipe to a stepped up gin alteration:
- 2 oz Brokers Gin
- 3/4 oz Campari
- 3/4 oz Noilly Pratt Sweet Vermouth.
Again, to try and tone it down, I chose the Brokers because it’s a bit smoother and creamier than a drier gin like Beefeater or Tanqueray. If you don’t have Brokers you could also use Bombay Sapphire or Citadelle. I also use the cheaper and sweeter Noilly Pratt instead of a Punt e Mes for the very same reasons. You may want to experiment a bit before aging a batch yourself.
Barrel aging is a logical next step in mellowing the sharp tones of the gin and Campari marriage. For barrel aging my Negroni, I purchased a new 2 liter charred white oak barrel from Copper Fox Distillery, but you can find many sources online for barrels, and you may even find a local seller near you. Before pouring your first batch into the barrel, you’ll need to fill the barrel with very hot water and let it soak for a few nights to swell up the oak staves, assuring you don’t have leaks. Once that’s done, simply combine your ingredients in a large enough container and funnel it into the barrel. Then, seal it up by replacing the bung tightly and let time do its thing.
Taste a sample from your barrel every couple weeks to check in on how rapidly the flavor is developing and, while you’re at it, turn the barrel a quarter turn to shift the liquid into contact with a fresh surface of charred oak. My first batch in the new barrel aged quickly, picking up a lot of oak flavors. That batch was ready in a month, but the second batch took two months to mature, and I expect my next batch to take even longer to pick up the barrel’s flavor.
When the Negroni tastes just right to you, empty out the barrel and transfer the batch to a glass container to halt the aging process. Remember to strain your Negroni when decanting from the barrel. There will be sediment. I like to decant my Negroni into a bottle that’s easy to serve from so that it’s easy to measure out the Negroni mixture with a jigger into a mixing glass. Then, simply stir with ice and strain into a chilled coupe or cocktail glass. Mist and garnish with an orange peel. Finally, enjoy your Negroni, enhanced by Mother Time.
Before you tuck away your barrel for next time, make sure to refill it with cool water to prevent it from drying out. It’s best to store it in a cool, damp place.
Barrel aging may seem like a lot of work, but it is well worth it for the impressive results, and it’s kind of fun. The cocktail is fantastic and I’ve even turned a good handful of my gin-averse patrons into Negroni enthusiasts, opening their bitter palettes and eyes to a whole new world. Cheers!