Roll out the barrel! These old cocktails pack a mean punch

view gallery VIEW GALLERY

Vintage concoctions are now all the rage in bars across the UK. Kate Youde is shaken and stirred

The biggest decision facing most cocktail lovers used to be whether they would prefer their tipple shaken or stirred. Now they can also choose how old they would like it to be, thanks to an unusual but increasing vogue for cocktails that have been aged in oak barrels.

The drinks are appearing in bars across the UK. According to cocktail experts, contact with the oak, and the natural oxidisation that comes as the drinks age, enhances and softens the flavours. Other factors likely to affect the taste of a vintage cocktail include what the barrel was previously used for and how charred it is inside.

Bramble Bar and Lounge in Edinburgh is struggling to keep up with demand since launching a "Scottish Manhattan", aged for six weeks in Glenmorangie whisky barrels, two months ago. Hyde & Co in Bristol is poised to offer its next vintage of barrel-aged Hanky Panky, while London venues serving barrel-aged cocktails include the Donovan Bar at Brown's Hotel and Artesian at the Langham.

The idea of serving cocktails from barrels is actually centuries old. Its revival coincides with a renewed interest in classic cocktails and the launch of historically influenced bars. The Victorian-themed Worship Street Whistling Shop in Shoreditch, east London, opened in April and serves six barrel-aged drinks. Tristan Stephenson, co-founder of the cocktail consultancy Fluid Movement, which owns the bar, says that cask ageing is a process of "trial and error".

"Just because you stick a cocktail in a barrel doesn't mean it's going to get better," he warns. "It has to taste good."

VOC, a modern interpretation of a 17th-century punch house, near King's Cross in central London, has served drinks aged in casks above the bar since opening in May. Alex Palumbo, the bar's manager, says they were partly inspired by the grog once drunk in large quantities by sailors, made from rum, lime, water and sugar.

Barrel-ageing cocktails took off in the US after a well-known cocktail maker, Jeffrey Morgenthaler, experimented with the practice in Portland, Oregon. But the concept of cocktail ageing was in fact born in the UK. Mr Morgenthaler had himself been inspired by a visit two years ago to 69 Colebrooke Row, Islington, a London bar run by "mixologist" Tony Conigliaro, who pioneered the use of glass bottles to age his creations.

Not every cocktail is a good candidate for the process. Marcis Dzelzainis, the bar's operations manager, has heard of people maturing pina coladas but believes that it is "dangerous" to age drinks containing fermentable ingredients, such as fruit juice or cream.

So, while the idea of mature cocktails may not sound appealing, having nobly tasted some in the line of duty, I am surprised to say that you really can taste the difference.

Perched on a bar stool at VOC, underneath a row of casks and in front of an intriguing display of everything from an antique Bunsen burner to rows of wax-sealed bottles, I discovered that not only does the aged Yellow Martini look different from the fresh version – after three weeks in a barrel it has a champagne hue – but it also has a much smoother, cleaner flavour.

At 69 Colebrooke Row – on a different night, to save my liver – I found a two-year-old Manhattan much gentler on the palate and more enjoyable than the sharper, fresh drink. Make mine a vintage cocktail.

Life and Style
ebookNow available in paperback
ebooks
ebookPart of The Independent’s new eBook series The Great Composers
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Food & Drink

    Recruitment Genius: Technical Supervisor

    £24800 - £29000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: As one of London's leading Muse...

    Recruitment Genius: Centre Manager

    £14000 - £18000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

    Guru Careers: Accountant

    £28 - 45k (DOE): Guru Careers: An Accountant is needed to take control of the ...

    Recruitment Genius: Hotel Assistant Manager

    £18000 - £20000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This hotel in Chadderton is a p...

    Day In a Page

    Fishing for votes with Nigel Farage: The Ukip leader shows how he can work an audience as he casts his line to the disaffected of Grimsby

    Fishing is on Nigel Farage's mind

    Ukip leader casts a line to the disaffected
    Who is bombing whom in the Middle East? It's amazing they don't all hit each other

    Who is bombing whom in the Middle East?

    Robert Fisk untangles the countries and factions
    China's influence on fashion: At the top of the game both creatively and commercially

    China's influence on fashion

    At the top of the game both creatively and commercially
    Lord O’Donnell: Former cabinet secretary on the election and life away from the levers of power

    The man known as GOD has a reputation for getting the job done

    Lord O'Donnell's three principles of rule
    Rainbow shades: It's all bright on the night

    Rainbow shades

    It's all bright on the night
    'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

    Bread from heaven

    Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
    Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

    How 'the Axe' helped Labour

    UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power
    Rare and exclusive video shows the horrific price paid by activists for challenging the rule of jihadist extremists in Syria

    The price to be paid for challenging the rule of extremists

    A revolution now 'consuming its own children'
    Welcome to the world of Megagames

    Welcome to the world of Megagames

    300 players take part in Watch the Skies! board game in London
    'Nymphomaniac' actress reveals what it was really like to star in one of the most explicit films ever

    Charlotte Gainsbourg on 'Nymphomaniac'

    Starring in one of the most explicit films ever
    Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers

    Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi

    The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers
    Vince Cable interview: Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'

    Vince Cable exclusive interview

    Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'
    Iwan Rheon interview: Game of Thrones star returns to his Welsh roots to record debut album

    Iwan Rheon is returning to his Welsh roots

    Rheon is best known for his role as the Bastard of Bolton. It's gruelling playing a sadistic torturer, he tells Craig McLean, but it hasn't stopped him recording an album of Welsh psychedelia
    Russell Brand's interview with Ed Miliband has got everyone talking about The Trews

    Everyone is talking about The Trews

    Russell Brand's 'true news' videos attract millions of viewers. But today's 'Milibrand' interview introduced his resolutely amateurish style to a whole new crowd
    Morne Hardenberg interview: Cameraman for BBC's upcoming show Shark on filming the ocean's most dangerous predator

    It's time for my close-up

    Meet the man who films great whites for a living