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Aged Cocktails: How They Came Into Being, And Are They Worth The Hype?

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Have you ever been at the receiving end of a birthday card with the message - ‘You’re not getting old, you’re just ageing like fine wine?’ Well, you will at some point, and it’s never funny. Regardless, in the world of fine whiskies and wines, ageing is considered a great thing. But, the golden question remains: are aged cocktails worth the hype?

As the name suggests, aged cocktails are drinks that are left to mature in a controlled environment. Typically stored in in oak barrels or, airtight containers over long periods, the cocktail absorbs the woody flavour tones, that enhance its taste and complexity. 

If you know your way around cocktails. you’re probably familiar with this process which also results in delicious spirits such as whiskies, rum, and brandies. It’s unclear how these cocktails came to be invented but this trend is recorded to have first gained momentum in the 2000s when London-based bartender Toni Conigliaro revived this old trend. His first few attempts at ageing classic cocktails were nothing short of a disaster. So, he decided to age cocktails using the bottle-ageing technique. And, it worked! By then, American bartender Jeffrey Morgenthaler tried barrel-ageing again in 2009 and that experiment was a success! Destiny, right? So, long story short, it became a trend with cocktails and a rather popular one at that.

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The ageing cocktails were a success because there were and are people who don't hesitate to experiment with something new. As far as cocktails are concerned, it’s definitive that this process results in the melding of flavours – citrus, vanilla, and caramel which are only enhanced by the oak. They offer a very unique tasting experience and if done carefully, can be divine. 

However, this process isn’t an easy one and should be tried at home with tremendous care. Unlike regular mixing, you need to be more careful when combining flavours because the longer periods of distillation can cause the flavour profile to be completely different. So, the best cocktails for this are spirit-forward (a base spirit mixed with vermouth or some other type of fortified wine like sherry or port). Also, the combined level of the alcohol should neither be too low nor too high and should be somewhere between 20-30 percent ABV. 

The Negroni is the best choice for barrel-aged cocktails, but the Manhattan, the Old Fashioned, and the Boulevardier are also equally popular and delicious options. However, if the original recipes include fresh ingredients such as fruit, dairy, or juices, they should be left out of the process as they have tiny shelf lives or should only be added at the time of serving. You can also substitute a few ingredients, except dairy – that will kill the cask, you can use lemon zest instead of fresh lime juice, and orange zest instead of orange juice. You should also age your cocktail for at least 20 days for best results, so if you’re not known for patience, this will be a harrowing process for you. 

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However, to answer the question, are they worth the hype? Absolutely! They’re delicious, flavourful, and innovative. They’re also a testament to the creative genius of bartenders and mixologists who are constantly working towards creating a unique tippling experience!

Aged or new, cocktails or any other spirits-based beverages must always be had in moderation for your own safety.