Barrel-Aged Negroni

I’ve been a wine guy for close to two decades.  I re-started drinking beer a couple years ago, but I probably drink 5 beers/year.  About 18 months ago I had a gin and tonic that forever changed my opinion of a cocktail, and, for better or for worse, has opened up a new world to explore.

One of the drinks that everybody should try is a Negroni.  Equal parts gin, vermouth (the sweet, Italian variety), and Campari, it’s a great combination of sweet, bitter, citrusy, boozy.  You can have one in the afternoon, or make it a nightcap.  Just use good ingredients–in particular, don’t skimp on the vermouth, and make sure it isn’t good vermouth that has been opened for months and is now oxidized.

Several weeks ago we went to dinner at Cut in LA.  We arrived a bit early and had time to go to the bar, and I noticed on their menu a barrel-aged Negroni.  I was fascinated to see what this would do to one of my favorites.  Wow.  It was awesome.  It retained the fundamental character of the drink, but added complexity as well as taking a bit of the edge off the bitterness.  I like it so much that when I got home I ordered a barrel and put together my own batch (Aviation gin, Cocchi vermouth, Campari).

It’s an experiment for sure.  After three weeks (my first taste) it tasted like a Negroni to which somebody added maple syrup.  I love maple syrup, but in this case it changed the character too much.   After four weeks it was great, and I probably should have pulled it out of the wood.  After five weeks it took on a bitter, woody element–almost highlighting the bitterness of the Campari but in a negative way.  At close to six weeks, that has toned down and it is, hopefully, moving in the right direction again, but I’m tempted to say that 30 days, in a new, 2-liter barrel, would be the perfect–for my palate–amount of time, although I’m going to keep it going and probably either discard it if it gets way too oaky or maybe I’ll find that there is another good age at which it can be pulled out of the barrel.  I will say it makes me want to try this with some other drinks but there are so many variables I think I need to hone the craft a bit on this one.

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