The Tasting Panel magazine

August 2015

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OAK-AGING HELPS AUSTIN BARS LIKE ODD DUCK ELEVATE THE ART OF THE COCKTAIL 58  /  the tasting panel  /  august 2015 A LONE STAR LIFE B uild a proper cocktail with quality liquor and fresh ingredients and customers will become fans. But put that cocktail in a barrel and forget about it for a month, and it develops complexity and sumptuousness; suddenly, it becomes a drink that develops a following. The recent revival of the pre-Prohibition practice of barrel-aging cocktail components has hit a handful of bars in Austin, including Odd Duck. Opened in December 2013 by the team from Austin's celebrated Barley Swine, this New American restaurant's bar program originally barrel-aged Manhattans and Negronis to elevate its overall artisanal appeal. "There was lots of interest right away," says Cory Neel, Odd Duck's Assistant General Manager and Bar Manager. He points out that the drink menu now includes six classic and original cocktails that rest in new American oak barrels; each undergoes obvious changes of character, becoming more rounded, nuanced and balanced. The Bijou, for instance, is the same gin-based classic that's been around for generations, but when enjoyed right out of the barrel it features seamless ingredient integration and a deep, long-lasting back end that also makes it an attractive option to pair with food. With success, however, come new chal- lenges. "We started out with about five barrels, and right now we have 13 to keep up with demand," Front of House Manager Katan Clayborn tells me. "There is some upfront investment for the barrels, liquor and for the labor to put everything together before the aging period." At Odd Duck, on average, a five-liter barrel yields 60 cocktails and can sell out in as few as three days. Barrels are typically re-used— always for the same cocktail—three to four times. And while there is interest and enthusi- asm at Odd Duck to produce and sell more of these premium drinks, space is becoming an issue. Eleven barrels are already stacked over the back bar, with two others tucked away wherever room can be found. Of these 13 barrels, four or five are always filled with Bulleit Rye Whiskey and Carpano Antica Formula Sweet Vermouth, but these Manhattans aren't yet complete, because Neel learned this lesson: "Bitters in a barrel don't work. Bitters seep into the wood and will just keep building intensity. It gets out of balance. Always add the bitters at the end when you're building the finished drink." Neel also advises aging drinks for a mini- mum of one month. "I feel like 30 days gives it enough time to sit and soak in the flavor of the barrel. You can taste the oak but still taste the other ingredients at that point," he says. "The longer the aging, the more integrated the flavors. I don't think there's a risk from over-aging these cocktails. But then again, we've never had the chance to age them too long because of their popularity." OAK-AGING HELPS AUSTIN BARS LIKE ODD DUCK ELEVATE THE ART OF THE COCKTAIL Above: At Odd Duck, the classic Bijou begins with barrel-aging equal parts Ford's Gin, Green Chartreuse and Carpano Antica for at least a month. Pour three ounces over ice, add two dashes of Angostura Orange Bitters, and stir for 60 seconds. Strain over fresh ice; gar- nish with an orange peel. Rolling Out the Rolling Out the Barrels PHOTO: KIRK WEDDLE by Anthony Head / photo by Kirk Weddle

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