Barrel-Aged Cocktails Shine on Chicago Menus

Benjamin Schiller’s nine-week, barrel-aged Negroni, which is available at Boka, Girl & The Goat and GT Fish & Oyster. (Photo: Benjamin Schiller)

One of my favorite trends in 2011 was the barrel-aged cocktail. It didn’t exactly take off behind the bars around Chicago as forecasters had anticipated, but bartenders using the method cranked out some mighty flavorful concoctions.

The barrel-aging process consists of storing a large batch of the cocktail in oak barrels for a number of months, ranging from six weeks to a year. Its purpose is to improve the liquor over time, adding unmatched flavor, depth and character.

The more intense the ingredients, the more intense the flavors. Such is the case with Old Money, which can be found at Boka Restaurant Group venues Boka, Girl & The Goat and GT Fish & Oyster. The cold-weather cocktail is already a hit with diners, but the barrel-aged version takes it to the next level. Its intense ingredients of Black Maple Hill Bourbon, Aperol, Nux Alpina Walnut Liqueur and Allspice marinate in the barrel for about 10 weeks, and then it’s ready for consumption.

The barrel-aged Old Money is created by Boka Restaurant Group’s Benjamin Schiller, who has also aged the classic Negroni and Perfect Manhattan nine weeks and three months, respectively.

The six-week, barrel-aged Tenacity cocktail of Hendrick’s gin, Yellow Chartreuse, St. Germain and celery bitters. It’s available at David Burke’s Primehouse. (Photo: David Burke’s Primehouse)

At the James Hotel’s sleek David Burke’s Primehouse, three cocktails have also been aged, and they’re meant to complement the signature dry-aged beef offerings. The Tenacity (Hendrick’s, Yellow Chartreuse, St. Germaine, celery bitters) benefited the most from its six-week aging process, and the Negroni was particularly potent. It was also aged for six weeks. And though the Portuguese Cosmo (Ketel One Citroen, Founder’s Reserve, lime) was only aged for four weeks, it had developed a deep and intense flavor that goes very well with David Burke’s signature chocolate cake. The cocktails are available by request and in limited quantity.

Duchamp’s Kris Von Dopek takes his aged cocktail one step further by aging dried apricots with the cocktail in the oak barrel. His Boss Hog of Templeton Rye whiskey, smoked Door County cherries, Bitter Truth ExR and Decanter bitters is aged for four months.

And kudos to you if you can handle more than one of Twisted Spoke’s barrel-aged cocktails. The Knickertosser has been aged for almost a year and a half. They’re a little hush hush on most of the ingredients, but the Knickerbocker Gin and rose liqueur have certainly matured to perfection.