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Barrel-Aged Cocktails Make A Splash Behind the Bar

Blackbird's "Hourglass" Cocktail. Photo by Blackbird Bar, via Facebook

Barrel-aging cocktails isn’t a new trend, but it certainly has taken hold here in SF. Bartenders are batching up classics and aging them for several months, softening potent flavors, and adding new depth to once familiar cocktails. What started as simple barrel-aged Negronis and Old Fashioneds has grown into a science experiment of aged-everything. We’ve rounded up some of our favorites, from traditional to transformative.

Blackbird

At the forefront of the barrel-aged scene in SF is Blackbird, batching cocktails for anywhere from two months to three years in various vessels, like glass or oak. With each changing seasonal menu comes a different barrel-aged drink, featuring a unique set of spirits. This season, bar manager Matt Grippo is playing with the “Hourglass” — a blend of Campeon Silver Tequila, Gran Classico, Cardamaro, and Peleton de la Muerte Mezcal aged in a Willet Bourbon barrel for 2 months. 

Alta 

In a neighborhood once more likely to house dive bars serving scratchers and cheap shots than fine dining establishments, this chic restaurant and cocktail bar is a lone haven for artisanal sips and gourmet cuisine. While prices are steep (they made us miss those $5 beer-and-a-shot-and-a-scratcher deals at Hotspot next door), their barrel-aged cocktails make a good case for breaking the bank. From a sultry “Conquistador” (tequila, sherry, and sweet vermouth) to a spunky “Boulevardier” (bourbon, Campari, Calisaya) these smooth, sophisticated cocktails are worth the splurge. 

Tradition

At the boom of every popular new cocktail trend is a bar that eschews the traditional methods and experiments with riffs on a classic. Welcome Tradition, where instead of barrel-aging entire cocktails, bartenders are aging individual spirits. Take a Russel’s Reserve bourbon and age it in a Sauterne’s (a sweet French wine) washed oak barrel and turn that into a Boulevardier. Or a Negroni made with a Gordon's Dry London Gin that has been barrel-aged in a Pinot Noir washed oak barrel. Even more obscure is an Espolon Reposado Tequila barrel-aged in an Arabic coffee-washed barrel and served neat.

Bergerac 

Bergerac’s eclectic menu encompasses several bar trends, from drop shots to punch bowls. While they don’t have an extensive barrel-aging program, bar manager, Russell Davis mixes up a “Manhattan Project” — Breaking & Entering bourbon finished in a Manhattan aged barrel, and served with a simple ice rock and brandied cherry. The subtle flavor of the Manhattan cask is enough to impart a new, complex flavor on this simple cocktail.

Presidio Social Club

Take your barrel-aged cocktail to go. After four years of aging cocktails in their private barrels, Presidio Social Club is introducing their signature Bottled Cocktail Program featuring a barrel-aged negroni made with Campari, gin, and sweet vermouth. Packed in stylish bottles with vintage flair, each bottle makes enough for four to six servings — all you do is pour over ice. Enjoy a craft barrel-aged cocktail at your next picnic or dinner party.