Tim Stookey, the bar manager at Presidio Social Club, has seen a lot of gimmicks in his 13 years of bartending. One of them is barrel-aging cocktails, the process of allowing different spirits to mingle in an oak barrel for a short amount of time. He thought that barrel-aging would go the way of other fads (foam-topped martini, anyone?), but after comparing a fresh Negroni to an aged one at a seminar taught by the movement’s main advocate, Jeffrey Morgenthaler, Stookey changed his mind. “It tasted different,” he says. “I began to see the possibilities.”
Recently, after months of experimenting with types of barrels and spirits, lengths of aging time, and proportions, Stookey released his first aged creations: Aged Reasons Rye (rye whiskey, Punt e Mes, orange bitters, and Cointreau), Chef’s Ration (gin, Fernet, and sweet vermouth), and, of course, Negroni (gin, sweet vermouth, and Campari), all aged for two to three weeks in one- to ten-liter charred, new American oak casks. What emerges are versions of the original cocktails that are smoother, rounder, and maintain bright citrus notes and acidity.
While Stookey is the latest to jump in the mix, patrons at Blackbird in Duboce Triangle and the Tenderloin’s Bourbon & Branch have been sipping barrel-aged cocktails for a while. Now the trend is heading into homes. Craft Distillers, the Ukiah-based spirits company that makes Germain-Robin brandy and Low Gap Whiskey, bottles four ready-to-pour concoctions. The 1850 (absinthe and whiskey), the Saratoga (brandy, whiskey, and vermouth), the Brandy Manhattan (brandy and sweet vermouth), and the St. Nick (brandy and cranberry liqueur) are sweet and complex, some as excellent neat as they are chilled with a dash of bitters. They’re good enough to make you think that this ready-to-pour trend might be here to stay. Bartenders, watch your backs.