Bottle Your Signature Cocktail
Take the stress, mess and time away from mixing drinks.
It was an idea I jotted down in my little moleskine notebook after seeing it mentioned on social media by photographer, explorer and noted negroni aficionado, Matt Hranek. "Bottle-aged negroni," I scribbled and circled. Then I started noticing aged drinks on cocktail menus and the reminders kicked off a little research. And being the boozey nerd that I am, was instantly intrigued. Here's what I came away with: aging your cocktail allows for a certain alchemy to happen. You let a few different alcoholic ingredients linger together for a few weeks (or even a few months) and the flavors mingle and deepen. The result is a slightly smoother, easy to drink cocktail that's ready to pour over ice.
First, you need to choose what booze to bottle. Stick with spirits-only cocktails (anything with cream or fruit juice could be problematic). Classics like a martini, Manhattan or Rob Roy are good choices. As is the aforementioned negroni. Which is what I tried. Then choose the vessel in which you'll be aging your cocktail. You can go with a simple, sealed bottle or you could go with a small barrel. Because if you're going to nerd out and age your own cocktails, why not get a hand-crafted American white oak barrel with a charred interior that can proudly sit atop your home bar?
First you prep your barrel. Fill it with hot water and let it stand until watertight, about 24 hours. Then empty it and let it dry out for an hour or two before funneling in your alcoholic ingredients. My barrel holds about a liter so I filled it with the negroni's classic one-to-one-to-one ratio of 11 ounces each of gin, Campari and sweet vermouth. Then you let it sit. Perhaps you have more self-control than I (you likely do), but I found the hardest part about aging my negroni was not touching it for a while.
If you're bottle-aging, your cocktail could sit for months. Mr. Hranek, for example, bottled some at the end of negroni season last September and just cracked it open. For barrel aging, you want it to sit for anywhere between two to six weeks. After three weeks, my aged negronis were more mellow yet more complex than a freshly mixed one. The barrel wood's flame-charred flavors add a tasty depth to the Campari's sweetly bracing citrus tang. Once you've achieved the amount of aging you desire, strain through a coffee-filter lined funnel into a bottle. Then pour one for a guest and casually mention that you aged the cocktail yourself in an oak barrel and wait for the shock and awe.