Roll out the barrel

Barrel ageing is great fun. You can play around with different barrels and do great things to drinks – and also reduce staff service time! But while cocktails can be aged like a fine wine, all sorts of unwanted bitterness and unpleasant flavours can occur too. So take a look at our chart designed to help you match the right barrel to cocktail, and read this checklist while you’re about it

If adding sweet flavours from a bourbon barrel, it might pay to make the drink a little drier.


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  1.  Ageing a badly made cocktail is not going to make it better!
  2. Use reasonable ingredients and make it with the outcome in mind. If you are aiming to add a lot of sweet flavours from a small bourbon barrel for example, it might pay to make the drink a little drier.
  3. Don't age anything that will go off. Old dairy or rotting fruit juices aren't going to do you any favours!
  4. If you're buying new barrels, make sure they aren't lined with lacquer or treated with (potentially toxic) wood preservatives. They need to be food-safe quality.
  5. The smaller the barrel, the faster and more intense the effect will be. If you want an aged cocktail for a competition next week, or have high turnover in a busy bar, you might like to use new 5-litre barrels. Small barrels mean a great level of contact between the liquid and the surface area of the wood.
  6. All barrels will probably soften and mellow a cocktail, except where oxidation might lead to acidification. If the alcohol level of the drink isn't high enough, wines and vermouths can oxidise to acetic acid in the same way an open bottle of wine goes sour in a few days. In this case, an airtight bottle might be a good bet.