Barrel-Aging Cocktails: Claridge Cocktail

A barrel is a naturally evolving environment. As a spirit ages, the organic nature of the wood allows oxygen to interact with all of the components to create those unique, wonderful flavors we know and love. While Bourbon must be aged, by law, in new barrels, many other aged spirits, such as scotch, Canadian whisky, and even rum, depend on flavors that have been captured in a used barrel. Each time an unaged spirit is added to a used barrel, the spirit's aging process will be informed by what was in the barrel beforehand. This is a particularly important considering how vastly different a spirit that has been aged in a new barrel is from a spirit aged in a used barrel. Even finishing a spirit, which typically requires aging the spirit for at least two years in a different barrel, such as a sherry butt or port cask, can be used to layer in yet other flavors. Even something as small as the specific mash bill of a bourbon can greatly affect the flavors in a barrel that a white spirit can access while it rests. 

During barrel-aging, the flavors of the wood are infused into the white spirit. But this is only half of the equation. The flavors of the spirit are also suffused into the wood. Thus, when a subsequent new make spirit is added, the flavors of any earlier finished products will be imparted. But this is not an infinite process. As a barrel is reused, its own flavors are leeched away. Over time a neutral environment will result. Each liquid added to the barrel exists in its timeline. And when the product is taken out of a barrel it will not only represent a fixed point in the life cycle of the barrel, but it will also carry the impression of the barrel's history. I never really understood just how this worked until I started experimenting with my own small barrel.

The process is fascinating. The first spirit I aged would be the only one that would be 100 percent affected by the barrel. Because of this, the initial decision-making process is incredibly streamlined. Short of temperature and location decisions, the only remaining decision is when to empty the barrel. It was simply a question of time and taste. But every choice after that would get incrementally more complex.  The pisco I added to the barrel second has trace flavors of the rum I started with. The El Presidente cocktail that came next was influenced by both the pisco and the rum. As I started to understand how each decision impacted the next, my choices became more complex and more interesting. The effects of the flavors already in the barrel and how they would influence the next project needed to be accounted for. What kind of cocktail would benefit most from what had come before? This became the underlying theme of the entire process.

Enter the Claridge

I was first introduced to the Claridge Cocktail at a friend's house a couple of years ago. His knowledge of classic cocktails to this day exceeds my own, and I was happy to taste any beverage, new or old, that had captured his attention. For me it was the apricot brandy that made the cocktail so interesting. And yet it was such an old drink. But then again, I have always had a soft spot for classics.

Gary Regan outlined his opinions about the origins of the Claridge a couple of years ago in the San Francisco Chronicle. His research brought him from Harry Craddock's Savoy Cocktail Book, where I first discovered it, to Harry McElhone's 1927 Barflies and Cocktails. McElhone attributes it to "Leon, Bartender, Claridge's Hotel, Champs Elysee." Unfortunately, the trail runs cold thereafter.  

Given that the flavors of the El Presidente are bright and fruity, the Claridge seemed like a natural choice to follow it into the barrel.

Claridge Cocktail

1 ounce gin
1 ounce dry vermouth
1/2 ounce apricot brandy
1/2 ounce Cointreau

Combine ingredients in an ice-filled mixing glass. Stir and strain into a chilled cocktail glass.

Notes on Ingredients: I used Gordon's gin, Bitter Truth apricot brandy, and Dolin dry vermouth.

Fruity and bright, this is a cocktail that depends on the apricot brandy for its success. Delicate, yet still spirit forward, the Claridge is a perfect cocktail to use to test apricot brandies. Being the second cocktail that followed two spirits in my barrel, even after three months the influence of the barrel was slight. The oak of the barrel could be discerned as a hint in the after taste. A certain berry note from the grenadine in the El Presidente was apparent in the mid-palate. But it was an undercurrent of funk from the Wray and Nephew, still apparent after so much time, that hinted at the history of the barrel contained in this new cocktail.


What to Do With That Leftover Bottle of Cider: Apple Cider Syrups

Every fall without fail I crave hot mulled apple cider. There is nothing like settling down on the couch with a steaming mug under a blanket during those damp, cold nights of pre-winter. Sure, hot toddies are wonderful, but there is just something about the aroma of spiced cider. Add a slug of apple brandy and the apple flavors become that much more intense. Unfortunately, this craving disappears almost as soon as my mug is empty. And it is only when I open the fridge about a month later to a bloated half gallon of half-fermented cider that I remember that I don't really like apple cider. If I'm lucky, I discover this before the plastic jug has given in to the pressure, leaving a sticky puddle steadily expanding over the bottom of my refrigerator. This year as I noticed the the cider steadily making its way toward the back of the fridge, already half-hidden behind the orange juic and several vermouth bottles, I decided enough was enough. Instead of waiting for the cider to sour, this year I would make the cider not only more interesting but also last longer.

Mulled Cider

3 cups apple cider
2 cinnamon sticks
20 cloves, or more
35 allspice berries, or more
2 star anise
1 medium orange

1. Coarsely crush the spices and peel the orange. Half should do.

2. In a saucepan, combine the cider and the spices. Bring to an almost boil and reduce heat to a low.
3. Simmer for 20 minutes and then add the orange peel. Simmer 10 more minutes.
4. Strain out the spices and pour into your favorite mug.
5. Add brown sugar and/or apple brandy, to taste

This is my standard mulling recipe--granted the spice quantities will change depending on what is available or where my interests take me. Ginger would make an interesting addition or even some nutmeg, black pepper, or toasted fennel seeds. Using a Chinese five-spice blend would takethe drink in an interesting, albeit different direction. Also any citrus can be used. In fact, though I usually use an orange, in a pinch lemon peel or even grapefruit peel could work. The citrus contributes a certain brightness that contrasts the more earthy, dried spices.

As two cups of mulled cider was more than enough, I decided to make a syrup out of the excess. As the cider was already warm, this was extremely easy as well. Of course mulled cider syrup could just as easily be made separately. On a lark, I added molasses and brown sugar to provide an extra funkiness and depth. Even without these additions, this tasty syrup will work as well in cocktails as on pancakes, in oatmeal or even in tea. The spices aren't necessary either. A simple cider syrup is delicious on its own.

Mulled Cider Syrup

1 cup strained, mulled cider
1 cup sugar
1 tablespoon brown sugar
1 teaspoon molasses

Combine ingredients in a pan over low heat, stirring until sugar is completely incorporated. After letting the syrup cool, bottle and add 1 ounce of vodka (optional). Refrigerate.

Cider Syrup

1 cup cider
1 cup sugar

Combine ingredients in a bowl. Whisk until fully combined (no heat needed). Bottle and add 1 ounce of vodka (optional).


A Look at Apple Brandy: Moving Past the Spice

Before the leaves even start to turn here in Washington it seems that grocery stores are simply overflowing with apples. This is hardly surprising---apples are in season and Washington is the Apple State. With Thanksgiving rooting down the season in general, apple pie instantly pops into my mind. Apple-based spirits also  tend to get a lot of attention as well. I am a certainly guilty of consuming more apple brandy and Calvados (apple brandy made from Normand apple varietals that are then aged in French oak) in October and November. In the intervening months, I hardly ever think about either one. Sure there may be an occasion for a Stone Fence in the summer, or a Pink Lady in the spring. But fall is generally when I rediscover the deliciousness of apple brandy.

Relegating apple-based spirits to one season alone is really a shame. Recently I started asking myself why apple brandy cocktails don't play a greater role in my normal rotation. No other spirit is similarly pigeonholed. When I started recalling all of my favorite apple-brandy based cocktails, I noticed a suspicious pattern--almost all of them included what I will call "pie spices." Cloves and cinnamon, ginger and allspice, and even nutmeg and cardamom, all of these pair tremendously well with fall fruits. The cocktails that came to my mind first--Autumn Leaves, Northern Spy, Reveillon--all of them rely on this combination. Even an Applejack Old Fashioned has Angostura Bitters in it. Could my shortsightedness be related to an overdependence on apple pie flavors? Could it be that every year I just burn out on the spice quotient and take it out on the apple? The apple, such a versatile fruit, really deserves more than this. Recently I have allowed myself to learn that there are other options out there.


While it is impossible to completely mask the fruitiness of the apple in drinks that revolve around pie spices, the interplay between the ingredients is really the star. In fact, in many of these cocktails the apple merely provides the backbone that allows the spices shine. And while the brightness of the apple brandy does actually stand out in many cocktails, a large number also call for citrus. The only problem is that drinks like the Delicious Sour, the Jack Rose, and the newer Apple Jack Rabbit, while delicious, are not usually what I crave. So I decided to experiment. My inspiration came from the Vieux Carre and a recently acquisition, pamplemousse rose liqueur.

The Vieux Carre is one of my favorite cocktails. It has always reminded me of a lighter, more herbal Manhattan. A couple of years ago I was introduced to a wonderful variation by Chelsea at Sun Liquor Lounge. By swapping out the cognac for apple brandy, she created a similarly delightful cocktail. The flavor of the apple brings a wonderful fruity dimension to the cocktail and I have often returned to this variation for precisely this reason. So when I began thinking about what to pair with the apple brandy, the bright pink of the pamplemousse rose caught my eye. The rest is history. 

Lord Lambourne

1 ounce apple brandy
1 ounce rum
1 ounce Cocchi Americano
1/4 ounce pamplemousse rose liqueur
1 dash Peychaud's bitters

Combine ingredients in an ice-filled mixing glass. Stir and strain into a chilled cocktail glass. Garnish with an orange peel.

Notes on Ingredients: I used Laird's bonded apple brandy, Plantation 5-year rum, and Combier pamplemousse.


One of the greatest things about apples is their versatility. Sure things like apple pie, apple crisp, and coffee cake are what instantly come to mind when I think of apples. But the savory applications are lovely as well. Apples pair well with curry, celeriac, or even bitter greens such as escarole or arugula. Sadly, I had never thought of combining apples into cocktails with any of these flavors. It took Brian Lee to show me a more savory side to apple brandy.

Mela Seleri (inspired by Brian Lee, Canon)

1 1/2 ounces applejack
1 1/2 ounces Cocchi Americano
2 dashes celery bitters
Combine ingredients in an ice-filled mixing glass. Stir and strain into a chilled cocktail glass.

Notes on Ingredients: I used Laird's bonded applejack, and the Bittermens celery bitters.


Apple brandy is no stranger to herbal cocktails. Drinks like the Diamondback, combining apple brandy with green chartreuse, and the Newark, playing apple brandy off of Fernet Branca, have already established how well apple-based spirits play with herbal components. Even the Marconi Wireless, an Applejack Manhattan, depends on herbal interplay. Because I already knew that applejack worked well with Benedictine, from above, I decided to start there. But it was only when I came across a similar apple brandy recipe combining the spirit with Cynar that I started thinking about how artichokes might make applejack shine differently.

Bitter Apple (inspired by the Apple of Eden, Steven Shellenberger)

1 1/2 ounces apple brandy
3/4 ounces Cynar
1/4 ounce Benedictine
3 dashes Boker's Bitters

Combine ingredients in an ice-filled mixing glass. Stir and strain into a chilled cocktail glass.

Notes on Ingredients: I used Laird's bonded applejack.