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Is Barrel-Aging Your Negroni Worth it (and Doable)?

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The barrel-aging process at a glance.
The barrel-aging process at a glance. Photo by Irene Rinaldi

When I find something I like, I fully embrace it. This is perhaps most evident in my relationship with cocktails.

Vodka soda with lime and I were involved in a long, tumultuous relationship for years. Now we don’t speak. A Dark and Stormy mixed up with the spiciest ginger beer is my reoccurring summer fling (especially batched up in thermos for the beach). There are a number of one-night-stands with cocktails off the menu at places around the city, but nothing is lasting. And that is because I am currently in a committed relationship with the Negroni.

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The Negroni
The Negroni

Things started getting serious back in 2014 (slightly before the Negroni was named the “kale of cocktails” in this article). My coworkers at Food52 would mix up big-batches of gin, Campari, and sweet vermouth in a mixing bowl to serve alongside heaps of ricotta and toast for most office celebrations.

The relationship continued to blossom that summer on a trip to Italy—I consumed as much Campari as possible in Negronis, Americanos, and spritzes (I prefer the bitter variety, thank you).

And then I was gifted a barrel.

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My little barrel
My little barrel

What’s with the barrel?

Special things happen when you let your Negroni ingredients linger in a little oak barrel for a few weeks. The flavors mingle and grab a smoky note from the wood. The result is smooth, slightly lighter in color, and ready to pour over ice.

Back in 2010, Jefferey Morgenthaler wrote this instructional barrel-aging post (which I think was during my vodka soda years). I was introduced to the aged cocktail at Mario Batali’s Babbo in 2015. When a favorite kitchen store started carrying little barrels, and I discovered my uncle was barrel aging cocktails in his basement this year, I realized that this would be next step in my relationship with the Negroni.

The classic 1:1:1 ratio, going into the barrel Photos by Irene Rinaldi

The process.

Making a barrel-aged cocktail is fairly simple. Ali shared this aged Negroni recipe as my guiding light throughout the process.

Here’s what I did:

First, prep the barrel. Your barrel will likely come with specific instructions. Mine soaked twice with hot water for 24 hours to prime the wood, and ensure the barrel is watertight. The soaking was followed by 1 to 2 hours of drying time before the ingredients go in.

My dish towel was completely soaked after the first fill.
My dish towel was completely soaked after the first fill.

Next, funnel in your ingredients. My barrel holds about a liter with ingredients, and I filled it with a classic 1:1:1 ratio of 11 ounces London Dry Gin, 11 ounces Campari, and 11 ounces of Cocchi Vermouth di Torino.

Then, wait. My recipe suggested leaving the cocktail in the barrel about a month. After two weeks, I started sampling the results. The cocktail had a lighter color at that point and a slight hint of smokiness. By four weeks, the flavor intensified and the color goes from a vibrant red to a lighter, rusty orange.

2 week old Negroni on the right, 4 week old on the left.

Finally, strain into a bottle, and enjoy. Once you’re happy with the Negroni flavor, pour your cocktail through a coffee filter-lined funnel straight into glass bottle. This will ensure your cocktail doesn’t bring any little bits of the barrel into it’s new home.

So was it worth it?

My deep love for Negroni aside, I say yes. Here’s why:

Ready to enjoy
Ready to enjoy Photo by Irene Rinaldi

Convenience: When you have very predictable drinking habits (like me), a batch premixed Negroni is perfect. All I need is an ice cube and an orange twist and I’m ready to sit back for a night in with my number 1’s: Negroni, dog, and husband (listed in no particular order).

Flavor: You can see the difference in color side-by-side in the photos above. The cocktail that emerges from the barrel is mellow and smoky.

Party trick: Serving a group is easier with a batch of Negroni. And won't it sound extra fancy when you say the cocktail has been aging in a little oak barrel for a month?

$$$: There is a little cost upfront, but I think of it this way: $40 to $80 spent on the barrel (which you can easily procure online ) plus about $75 on your spirits comes out to a total of $150. You could buy ~15 drinks at the bar with that cash. Or sip and/or serve 20 cocktails that you’ve put a little extra love into.

I’m sharing my batch of barrel-aged Negroni with friends at Food52 this afternoon at 5pm EST. Tune in on Food52’s Snapchat (food52), and see what happens.