Back at the end of July, I posted about a drink called Parallel Tracks, a riff on a Negroni that blended Cooper River Distillers Rye Oak Reserve rum, Amaro Nonino, and Dolin Rouge vermouth together to create a cocktail that I described as bright, bracing, and smooth. I chose those three particular components because they were so similar in terms of weight, and I knew that they wouldn’t clash or overpower one another. A short time after that, we began to toy with the idea at the distillery of barrel aging the cocktail, which means that we would literally put the ingredients in a small barrel that had previously held Journeyman whiskey, our brandy, and our whiskey distilled from Spellbound Peach IPA. I loved the idea right from the start, because I thought that this particular cocktail would do well in a barrel since its ingredients were so well balanced in terms of body style. And I was so excited to see the ways in which the drink would change.
Barrel aging tends to soften flavors, and to impart sweetness, since it has the effect of concentrating the sugars. All three components of the original drink already had some sweetness to them, so we had to be careful that the sugars did not become overpowering. The rum is strong and has some real sharpness to it, as does the Nonino, so the original drink did have a bit of a bitter, bracing effect. It’s considered a riff on a Negroni because of the way the drink is built (one part base spirit, one part sweet, one part bitter) but it had the Negroni personality as well. Once it went into the barrel, we began tasting it on a weekly basis. It was fascinating to see the changes it went through, and we could taste how the components were being affected individually. One week the vermouth moved more forward, the next week it was the Nonino. And as the sweetness began to rise, the sharp edges of the drink began to mellow and soften. We aged it for 5 weeks and knew it was ready to pull when it had come back into balance again. We filtered it and bottled it, so that it would be clean and could be kept very cold. By the time I tasted it this past Saturday, I felt as though the flavors had come together beautifully and what we ended up with was a riff on a Negroni with the personality of a Manhatten. We served it in a rocks glass with one large cube and garnished it with a grapefruit twist, instead of the original orange, to curtail the sweetness just a bit.
We had a wonderful event yesterday at the distillery to release the cocktail to the public, and it went over very well. We have lots left, so if you’re planning to visit us anytime soon you’ll be able to taste it too. As I looked around the room at everyone who came out for our event, I began thinking about how the process of barrel aging is a lot like what happens between people. We start out as individual components, and we bring certain characteristics to the table, but if the friendship or relationship continues, time will have a way of changing it. There are usually sharp edges in the beginning and we’ll bump into one another trying to figure it all out, but then those spots begin to soften and disappear. In rare instances, we find someone who we’re in perfect sync with right from the start, and it stays that way. Other times it starts out like that and then we wonder what happened later. Blame the barrel. There are always moments when one of us moves forward a little bit and carries more weight than the other person, or it swings the other way, but somehow it all balances out in the end. We’re mellower, smoother, and easier than we’d be if we didn’t have this significant person or friend in our lives.
I’m reposting the original Parallel Tracks recipe below. It is possible to barrel age a cocktail at home. In fact, we had Anthony Barrel Company with us yesterday, a local cooperage from Port Richmond that makes barrels in all sizes from many different woods and can custom engrave them for you. It’s their barrel in the photos.
1 oz Petty’s Island Rye Oak Reserve Rum from Cooper River Distillers
1 oz Amaro Nonino
1 oz Dolin Rouge Sweet Vermouth
Add all ingredients to a mixing glass with ice and stir until very cold. Strain into an old-fashioned glass over 1 large cube. Express an orange peel over the glass, twist and drop in. Unless you’ve barrel aged it, in which case you should go with grapefruit. Enjoy!