Thursday, November 11, 2010
The Barrel-Aged Negronis Are Uncorked
It's been seven weeks since I filled a three-gallon Tuthilltown oak barrel with Campari, gin and sweet vermouth, and it's time to taste the barrel-aged Negronis. I have been sampling them all along, of course. About once a week. They progressed nicely, and according to expectations. Though I discovered along the way the hitherto unknown information that my wife does not like Negronis, aged or not. This was heartbreaking news. But she has bravely continued to taste them, hoping to bring her taste buds around.
To cut to the chase, the experiment has been a success. I strained the liquid through cheesecloth through a funnel into a series of glass jugs. The Negronis taste as good as any aged cocktail I've had in a professional bar. The naked truth is, barrel-aged cocktails are not a challenge. Anyone can make them. This does not denigrate their quality in any way. They are tasty little specimens. But making them is not rocket science. You just need liquor, a barrel and time.
Jeffrey Morgenthaler, the founder of this national trend, was right to steer me in the direction of Negronis. Barrel-aging has a wonderful effect on vermouth, faintly oxidizing it and adding dimension to the drink. As with the other barrel-aged cocktails I've had, my Negronis have taken on depth and smoothness. It's the kind of cocktail that makes you pause and think after the first sip. You can't belt it back, and you can't drink it without drifting into errant contemplation.
A friend of mine who is a home brewer suspected that, following this experiment, my barrel was "dead," and couldn't be used to anything else. This made me despair. So I consulted Morgenthaler. He said nay—wash it out and fill it with another cocktail. I think I will be going in the direction of rum or tequila this time around.