Barrel-Aging Cocktails: The Caneflower

Though it is a sad fact, barrels don't last forever. Only a limited amount of flavor can be drawn out before the environment becomes effectively neutral. Of course, it still operates as a natural oxidation filtration system, with the wood still breathing with the changes in temperature. After all of the flavor is extracted, a barrel can still be useful, just not in the same ways. Oxidation and thus, mellowing can still occur long after the wood has stopped being an active participant. As I drained the last bits of the Claridge cocktail out of my barrel, I knew that I was going to have to choose very wisely. After aging two spirits and two cocktails, I was nearing the end of the barrel's life cycle. and there might not be many more opportunities for experimentation. The pressure only grew when I realized that not only would I need to choose an appropriate cocktail to follow the dry, fruity Claridge, but I would also need to determine the time frame for the next cocktail.

With each new batch, the amount of time necessary to age a cocktail grows. It makes sense--less of the barrel's flavors are present. Some friends who are very experienced at barrel-aging advised me to wait at least a year. This sounded extreme. The previous cocktail had only been aged for 3 months. In the end I decided to aim more for 6 to 9 months. As the oak was relatively slight in the Claridge I thought doubling might add more barrel flavor. Perhaps the extra time would correct for my barrel's age.

Choosing a recipe was easily solved when I discovered a 1.5-liter bottle of cachaca sitting in the back of my cabinet. I had received it two years ago as a gift and had never gotten around to using it. After a quick Internet search, I ran across a perfect choice--the Caneflower. This cocktail, created by Jeffrey Morgenthaler, is a variation of a Negroni variation, the Comte du Sureau, originally created by Gonçalo de Souza Monteiro. The Caneflower's elderflower and slightly bitter Aperol seemed a logical choice to follow the dry, apricot flavors of the Claridge. 

While cost and ease were the most important factors in why I chose the Caneflower, I was still exciting about the new adventure this drink represented. Before, I had only aged cocktails that included a wine-based product, such as vermouth, that would oxidize during the process. On top of that, most of the barrel-aged cocktails I had tried in bars also included vermouth or a quinquina. As the Caneflower has no vermouth or even a wine-based product, I could not guess the results. This prospect was very enticing. How would the ingredients react over time? Would the presence of the oxidized vermouths in the barrel affect the outcome? And then there was the question of time. Would the lack of vermouth change the speed of the process? But in the end none of these things really mattered. Life intervened and a careful tasting of the contents was not in the cards. More plainly said--I totally forgot about the barrel.


1 1/2 ounces cachaca
3/4 ounce Aperol
1/4 ounce elderflower liqueur

Combine ingredients in a ice-filled glass. Stir and strain into a cocktail glass. Garnish with a lemon twist.
Notes on Ingredients: I used Pur Likor, elderflower liqueur.

Over one year later, I looked up and saw the barrel. I hesitantly tasted it and after determining that the contents hadn't been ruined, I emptied the barrel. Remarkably, what had gone in as 2 liters in volume came out at a mere 750 milliliters. The barrel was indeed hungry. Upon first taste, the Caneflower was intensely concentrated with flavors. However, oak wasn't one of them. It wasn't until I actually diluted the contents into a cocktail that I could find the oak notes at all. But boy did it need a lot of dilution. To find the balance, I had to stir it more than twice as long. Then, there was the oak. While this was not my best effort at barrel-aging, it did provide me with valuable information--don't fall asleep on the job.