Reasons To Reconsider: Barrel-Aged Cocktails at Presidio Social Club

It seemed like another ridiculous cocktail fad. Oh, now we’re aging cocktails. In wine barrels. Great. Aging something that has already been aged. You could hear the eyes rolling. What ever will these “mixologists” think of next? The particular mixologist credited with starting this fad is from Portland, Oregon (of course, he is). Jeffrey Morgenthaler, inspired by a  pre-mixed, bottle-aged Manhattan he had in London in 2010, started experimenting with aging the same drink in used Madeira and bourbon barrels before subjecting other classics like the Trident and the Negroni to the treatment.

But like anything that happens behind the bar, there is a right way and a wrong way. The wrong kind of barrel, the wrong ingredients and the wrong amount of time can make for one disastrous libation. While Morgenthaler managed to achieve the right balance,  a lot of ambitious bartenders picked up on the fad and started doing it the wrong way. Many consumers were disgusted and disillusioned and started drinking beer again.

Which is why were intrigued to learn that Presidio Social Club, a restaurant in San Francisco with a solid reputation, had three barrel-aged cocktails to their program. Bartender Tim Stookey says he was inspired by a “Tales of the Cocktail” seminar he attended hosted by none other than Jeffrey Morgenthaler: “Barrel aging is simply taking a cocktail that is made up of spirits, no fruit juice or cream, and letting it age in a charred oak barrel. This works especially well for cocktails that have some sharp notes or ‘bite’ to them. The barrels take and soften those notes and add some vanilla notes, similar to the whiskey aging process,” writes Stookey.

Their list currently includes a Negroni (Beefeater gin, Campari and Dolin Rouge (a sweet vermouth), the Chef’s Ration (Fernet, Beefeater, Carpano Antica) and the Aged Reasons Rye (Redemption Rye, Cointreau, Punt e Mes) all aged for 2 to 4 weeks in small, charred new American oak.  Of the three, the Chef’s Ration was the most unique.

The Negroni was bright, acidic, and just bitter enough—in short the perfect Negroni; the Aged Reasons had taken on a maple syrupy thing making it less interesting than it might have been without the aging; but the Chef’s Ration had become something it could never be on it’s own. Citrusy and refreshing up front from the lemon zest, the piney, medicinal quality of the Fernet was softened and integrated and the finish was clean and refreshing. It will surely make you think about Fernet differently. Manager Rafe Gabel recommends it as an ideal digestive.

Like curing meat and sabering Champagne, we think this is best left to professionals. But since trying it at home can’t actually kill you, Tuthilltown Spirits does sell 1 to 3-liter barrels that are perfect for the endeavor.