If you haven’t been paying attention to every micro-trend that sprouts to the surface of the Chicago dining/drinking landscape, then maybe you haven’t experienced barrel-aged cocktails, and maybe you never will, because I’m not sure they work.
Here’s the idea, and it’s not complicated: you take your mixed drink, with all spirit-based ingredients, and put it in a wooden cask to let it sit a bit before you enjoy it.
Last week, I had a martini, mixed by the Alinea crew, that had been aged in oak before it was served to me. It was called “Rye,” and the ingredients listed on the menu were Absolute Vodka, Pernod and lemon oil (I believe it was aged in a Templeton barrel). The hope, of course, was that the em-barreled beverage would take on some of the smoky, caramel or woodsy notes of the wood. At this point, I can’t say if the drink profited from being in the tun.
Now, let me say, this was not my favorite sip in a night filled with wonderful things to eat and drink (it had a cloudy, indistinct and slightly bitter note). But here’s the thing: I judge dining experiences in somewhat the same way that I judge movies. If, after a few days, I’m still thinking about the food/drink or movie, it was successful in some way. Maybe I didn’t like the chow or the flick, but if it's still got my mind working days later, then it did some kind of job on me and for that, I thank it.
I was at a table of maybe 50 or so, and I saw a lot of glasses going back to the kitchen, half or more filled, so I’m guessing others were feeling the same way I was. It was a strong drink and I think, ultimately, one that’s very hard to control in terms of flavor because mixologists don’t really know what they’re looking for yet. This is a relatively new and untested technique, so it’s all experimental at this point, and whether the results of the experiment are good or bad, well, only time will tell.
In the People’s Republic of Oak Park, to the best of my knowledge, we don’t have any places serving barrel-aged cocktails. Of course, we’re a demi-sec village, so we don’t have any taverns, unless you count Barclay’s, Velvet Rope and Bar Louis.