The concept of putting a complete cocktail into a barrel and aging it has gained a lot of traction since it was (re)introduced to the United States in 2010 by bartender Jeffrey Morgenthaler. Inspired by his visit to Tony Conigliaro’s 69 Colebrooke Row (whose lab is now The Drink Factory), Morgenthaler began throwing classic cocktails into small barrels and aging them. Aging cocktails isn’t a new invention – ads from the 1910’s show that barrel aging of cocktails has been popular before – but their popularity has surged in great part to Morgenthaler and Conigliaro. Aging cocktails in barrels serves two main purposes: first and foremost, it adds wood notes to the equation (in very much the same way as adding raw spirit to barrels does), and secondly, it allows the cocktail to oxidize, which can round the corners on some flavors and allow harsher elements to soften.
The challenge of providing the barrel-aged cocktail in a retail bottle is much greater than at your local bar. In a bar it’s legal to mix ingredients and serve them, but for a distillery it’s a much more difficult task, as it’s illegal to repackage liquor that’s already had the Federal Excise Tax paid for it. The folks over at High West Distillery, who are known for their inventiveness and resourcefulness in whiskey, figured out how to get vermouth wholesale, mix it with the High West 95% rye whiskey and Angostura bitters, and age it in 2 year old rye whiskey barrels for four months. The result is High West Distillery The 36th Vote Barreled Manhattan (74 proof $56.99).
High West sent us both the final 36th Vote Barreled Manhattan and an unaged version. Sipping the two side by side (both neat and then stirred with ice), there were extremely clear differences. Nosing these two versions, it’s extremely clear which one is which. The barrel-aged Manhattan has distinct deep wood notes to the nose, while the unaged is sweeter and more herbal.
On the palate, the Barreled Manhattan wood notes mingle exceptionally well with the rye whiskey. The spice of the rye holds its own wonderfully with the oak flavors from the barrel. The addition of the wood flavors also pushes the balance of the drink towards the spiciness of the rye over the sweetness of the vermouth. It’s still a nice drink without the barrel aging, but the balance between sweet and spicy falls slightly more on the sweet side with the vermouth. The finish on the 36th Vote is exceptionally long, with lingering oak and spice left on the palate for a very long time.
While we quite like the High West 36th Vote Barreled Manhattan, the price point is a little tough to get past. Selling at $56.99 for a 750ml, and with Manhattans typically being 3oz, it nets out to a whopping $6.00 per Manhattan. Still, we applaud High West for managing to bring this bourgeoning phenomenon into a retail bottle with solid execution and extremely enjoyable results. Highly Recommended