Today you hear a lot about bars and restaurants making their own barrel aged cocktails. So instead of going to a bar and checking out their agings, I decided to try my hand at being a barrel master. For $37 I ordered a two liter barrel from Oak Barrels Ltd. I was excited when my new barrel arrived and I opened it right away. I was a little disappointed in its size and thought “there’s no way this could be 2 liters”. It looks like the size of the center of a football (properly inflated, too soon?). But sure enough when filled it was definitely two liters.
In the 4-5 days it took to arrive I was pondering what to age in it first. Should I try a vodka, a gin, a white whiskey? Then it hit me - Summer is coming and I love Dark and Stormy’s so why not age a white rum? I wanted to use a white spirit to see how it changed in color and flavor, so I used El Dorado 3-year old rum. I love the spice and pepper in ginger and also added FruitLab Ginger Liqueur.
The barrel comes with cleaning instructions and I suggest following them. There were bits of char in my barrel which came out easily but would have blocked the spigot had I left them in for flavoring. I even tasted the water that cleaned the barrel and it tasted like the Home Depot lumber section smells.
On April 20, 2015 my barrel was cleaned and and ready to go. With a funnel I added two bottles of the El Dorado White 3-year rum and 1/2 bottle of the FruitLab Ginger Liqueur. I did most of this over the sink to catch any spills but you can keep the barrel on a baking sheet to catch any drips. This is how I let it sit once it was ready to age. The barrel comes with a stand to keep it from rolling around.
Periodically I would check the barrel for leaks; there were none. It shouldn’t take long to get some oaky flavor since it’s a small barrel and most of the spirit is in constant contact with the wood. With this in mind I decided to check the flavor after 5 days. To my surprise there wasn’t any oak flavor but the rum and liqueur tasted significantly boozier than before going in. I tried it again after 10 days and now the alcohol had mellowed and the oak flavor was more prominent. I know oak can overpower such a soft, slightly-sweet spirit so I checked the flavor daily until I thought it could stand up to ginger beer and the acidity of a lime.
After 18 days in barrel my cocktail base was ready. The flavor of the rum came through as well as the spicy ginger but on the finish there was a mellow oaky tannin. I was now ready to empty the barrel into the rum bottles. But wait, where are my bottles? Not thinking, I had put them in the recycling bin and they were long gone. So I went through our liquor cabinet and Chris and I had cocktails with the liquors we had the least amount of; so much for a Dark and Stormy that night. We had a few gin and tonics from Aviation and Koval, and we also had an empty wine bottle, so I was set to empty the barrel.
You can empty the barrel, clean it and store it, but I wanted to keep my experiment going. And what better pairing with the residual ginger spiciness than bourbon?! I had 2 1/2 bottles of Corner Creek Bourbon at the ready to add once I’d emptied the barrel of my Rum and Ginger Liqueur.
The next day I experimented with ginger beers that would pair well and found that Fever-Tree, though really good, was too spicy. I tried Barritt’s but the sweetness was too strong. I found Fentiman’s Ginger Beer with it’s soft, sweet ginger start and peppery kick on the finish to be the best choice with the oaky finish of my newly aged spirit.
“The Rum Plank”
Over ice in a cocktail glass:
2 ounces of Barrel Aged Rum and Ginger Liqueur
Squeeze of a lime wedge
Top with Fentiman’s Ginger Beer
Garnish with a slice of lime and candied ginger.