A few years ago I started my journey down the whiskey rabbit-hole. This grew into a deeper understanding of how spirits are made and refined. My palette continues to evolve. I am constantly reassured about how much I still have yet to learn. Shortly after this journey began, I purchased a 3-liter barrel and later a 1-liter barrel. I also play with cocktails and infusions to see what these various spirits can do with fresh (and often locally sourced) ingredients.
Disclaimer: I am not a professional bartender. I do not distill spirits (perhaps some day).
There are a few cocktails that I experiment with, beyond normal mixing. I absolutely love combining a margarita with a gose beer—like the Old Pro—and recommend one on a hot day. However, if we’re talking classic, we should look at things like the “Old Fashioned” or “Manhattan”. Basic ingredients highlight their strength. This article is about the Manhattan, selected because I like whiskey and toying with vermouth.
While there are a few variations on this cocktail—the “Perfect Manhattan” is a great balance of sweet and dry vermouth—I sought a variation that I could put in my barrel for a port-finish. Enter what I call the “Cherry Manhattan”:
3 parts rye whiskey (e.g. Bulleit Rye); 2 parts sweet vermouth; 1 part maraschino liqueur; and Angostura bitters.
I tossed some cheap port (Taylor works fine) into my 3-liter barrel and left it for 3 months. The result is always great and an inexpensive way to keep the barrel wet. Letting a barrel go dry will ruin it. This port also makes a great sangria.
After emptying the barrel of port, I did some quick math for the cocktail ratios to produce 3.5 liters (the actual barrel volume) of my “Cherry Manhattan”. Filled and left alone for 4 weeks, the barrel just needs a weekly rotation. The previous attempt was only for a week, but I wanted more port and wood flavor. It delivered!
Are we done? Of course we aren’t. My first attempt I toyed with an infusion, which is a common recipe I use:
Add a sliced honeycrisp apple to a large mason jar with 0.5 oz local honey and 1 oz medium-toasted American white oak chips. Add the beverage to be infused and seal the jar. Shake the mason jar daily. Empty the jar after about a week and double-strain through coffee filters to remove sediment. Bottle and enjoy within a month—longer if refrigerated.
For my second attempt I tried three different infusions. All three included honey and oak chips, then different combinations of: apple and blackberries, apple and strawberries, and strawberries and blackberries… listed in order of least to most favored by myself and my wife. They are all fantastic! Assuredly the infusions make the cocktail sweeter—but not overtly sweet—and these are approachable for individuals that don’t quite appreciate a standard Manhattan (or its alcohol strength).
It takes a little more than 4 months from start to finish to produce this (and lots of cleaning). The layers of flavor that are produced: sublime. Another batch won’t be seen for a while unless I skip the port-barrel finish. Any portion of this process is worth the time and highly recommended if you feel motivated to enjoy both the process and the yield.