The first thing I did with my barrel was to make sure it was water tight. That meant filling it with water and letting the wood swell a bit. I got busy with other things and wasn’t able to drain it out and refill it with a cocktail as soon as I would have liked, so the water stayed in the barrel for about five full days.
It turns out that was a wonderfully educational accident: the “aged” water that came out was tinted to a oaky golden hue, and it smelled exactly like whiskey. It was remarkable: water aged five days in a tiny new charred oak barrel came out smelling—and tasting—like whiskey. This told me just how much of a typical whiskey’s flavor comes from the barrel. Taking sips of this oak-aged water, I couldn’t believe I was tasting so many of the familiar whiskey notes, but without the bite of the alcohol.
At the advice of Sother Teague, the head bartender at Rye in Williamsburg, whom I’ve been corresponding with via Twitter, I didn’t throw out the oak-aged water, but froze it in my ice cube trays and saved it all to chill future cocktails. What a great idea.
I had initially thought I’d try aging an old school Martini made with half Ransom’s Old Tom gin and half dry vermouth (and a couple dashes Fee Brothers orange bitters), but the more I thought about, the more I wanted to stick with a less complex base liquor and a more familiar cocktail. I opted for an Applejack Old Fashioned made with Laird’s 100 proof Apple Brandy, maple syrup, and Angostura bitters. I deliberated a bit about whether or not to add any water to it before dumping it in the barrel, and decided against it—at least against making a full batch of complete Old Fashioneds with the proper dose of water for each one. Instead, I added a single ounce of the oak-aged water to the batch, which was made with the equivalent of one 750ml bottle of Apple Brandy, plus two more ounces: about 13 two-ounce cocktails.
Once I’m done with the aging process, I’ll refill the empty Laird’s bottle with the aged cocktail and serve slightly diluted by stirring it in a cocktail shaker with ice, and maybe serving it with the oak-aged ice.
I put my Old Fashioned batch in the barrel about four weeks ago now. I’m trying to turn the barrel periodically to make sure the liquid makes contact with every surface. My next update will be at six or seven weeks when I decant.