Bartenders and Barrels: Aging Cocktails and Spirits

I have yet to be convinced that restaurants and bars gain much more than a do-it-yourself buzz while experimenting on their customers; whenever someone starts to defend the practice, I think back to the day when a friend of mine was forced to sample his own cocktail creation, but this one aged in what turned out to be a dirty, funky barrel a publican proudly poured for him. The making, curing, toasting, charring, testing and crafting an oak barrel takes skills acquired over a lifetime, not at a weekend seminar, so usually, I steer clear of the experiments.

But bartenders are still inclined to tinker, and Chris Simmons, general manager at The Patio on Goldfinch in San Diego, was inspired to start something he calls the Ocho Project, inspired by the makers of the unusual single-estate and vintage brand that he wanted to put through different aging techniques.

Simmons did it the smart way: first he connected with Tomas Estes and Carlos Camarena, co-owners of Ocho, to get their approval before aging one of the blancos in five-liter new American Oak barrels. His goal: to craft a tequila with oak-driven characteristics (as opposed to original Tequila Ocho which has been aged in used barrels). Simmons serves the newly-aged and the original side-by-side for guests to experience first-hand the differences the aging process imparts.

“I wanted to focus on one particular component, the aging process, since some producers use brand new oak and some use barrels several times, like Ocho,” says Simmons. He removed samples at 14, 28 and then 42 days, and serves them paired with reposado, añejo and extra añejo Ochos. “They show that if you start in the exact same place and change the next step, you end up in an entirely different place,” he says.

Not cocktails, but only spirit, with barrels that have the approval of men with a vast experience in the matter. If that's your method, pour me a glass; otherwise, count me out.

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