You can make an argument that not everything gets better with age, but that argument wouldn’t hold water (or whiskey) with Shawn Powell, beverage/spirit manager at City Cellar Wine Bar & Grill in West Palm Beach.
The CityPlace restaurant – one of South Florida’s more popular spots for dining and Happy Hour – has a pair of new cocktails that show off the barrel-aging process.
Basically, barrel aging is a process that allows each component of a cocktail to become more balanced—ultimately, developing a smoother flavor. Aging in oak barrels adds hints of smokiness, caramel, and spice to the concoctions that creates complexity and depth of flavor.
Front-and-center is Powell’s take on a whiskey Old Fashioned, which features Redemption Whiskey, Luxardo Marischino Liqueur, Amarena Cherry Syrup, and Orange Blossom Bitters. The cocktail is aged for 21 days in small barrels just a few feet from City Cellar’s bar.
“We concoct the cocktail and then pour it into a barrel,’’ Powell said. “When we first make it, it’s heavy on alcohol content. Then it starts to incorporate and mix with the char of the barrel itself to give you more mellowness.
“It’s like letting a drink sit on an ice cube for a couple of minutes. It really opens up the flavor.’’
Powell’s Barrel Aged Negroni, meanwhile, features Aviation Gin, Campari, Cinzano Sweet Vermouth. It’s aged for seven days.
“People are very specific about what they like, but they also are willing to try different drinks if you have an educational system behind it,’’ Powell said. “We do educational seminars for our staff that allows them to be more informative to our guests.’’
Powell himself went through an educational program of sorts when he recently visited seven of Kentucky’s best known whiskey distilleries, including Buffalo Trace, Maker’s Mark and Angel’s Envy.
“It was really cool to see New World versus Old World styles of bottling and distilling,’’ Powell said. “Old World uses a maturation process in which they leave the barrels in the cooperage in certain positions based on length of time they want them aged.’’
For example, Powell said, two- and four-year bourbons each are left on higher shelves because it’s hotter on top and the juice is better able to absorb the contents. Bourbons aged seven to 10 years, he said, are aged on bottom shelves because the temperatures are cooler.
“New World is a traditional rotation system where the barrels are moved around from top to bottom based on temperatures and humidity in the warehouses,’’ Powell said. “Some places, such as Angel’s Envy and Old Forester now control the temperatures at 78 degrees year-round.
“I got to see a lot of the operations from start to finish. It was a great learning experience.’’
An experience that he brought back to City Cellar.
“I looked at what we had in terms of bourbons and whiskies and ryes and figured what products we could fill in with – from the major players to small distilleries like WhistlePig from Connecticut.
“We’re seeing a lot of these types of craft whiskies coming into play,’’ Powell said. “And we are starting to bring in different ryes that have different notes to them and allows people to basically personalize their drink experience.’’