Distilled: Barrel-aged cocktails are Columbus' latest bar trend

Jesse Tigges, Columbus Alive

Barrel-aged cocktails are the new trend in Columbus' bar culture. Barrel 44 Whiskey Bar is a local leader in such cocktails - the trend took off a couple years ago when renowned mixologist Jeffrey Morgenthaler introduced them to the Pacific Northwest - by offering barrel-aged variations five months ago.

Currently, the Bexley bar serves a Barrel-Aged Boulevardier, and also the un-aged version. The cocktail is basically a Negroni only using bourbon - Bulleit Rye in this case - in lieu of gin (with Carpano Antica sweet vermouth and Campari).

Barrel-aging is a fairly simple approach to manipulating the flavor profile - make a large batch of the cocktail to store in an oak barrel for a number of weeks - but it makes an immense difference.

"In the un-aged cocktail you can pull each flavor out; Campari, sweet vermouth, obviously the rye. But the barrel-aging melds it all together giving it an element of depth without [lessening the] separation of flavors," said general manager Phil Prendeville.

The difference between the two boulevardiers was noticeable. The barrel-aged version was mildly sweeter and the bitter aftertaste of Campari was greatly reduced. Any oaky flavors were slight, but present. Prendeville was right, barrel-aged equals more "depth."

While the aged Boulevardier is well-developed and recommended, I need to try the elusive aged Manhattan. Apparently the aging process does wonderful things, but, alas, I wouldn't know … yet.

"With the Manhattans, we can't keep them in stock. It takes six weeks to make and it's gone in two," Prendeville said.

The Bexley location has two cocktails currently aging that will be ready in six to eight weeks, and one is a Manhattan. The other is a traditional Negroni using Watershed's Four Peel Gin. Made with OYO Honey Vanilla Bean Vodka in place of the traditional bourbon, the Manhattan should be quite a departure from the classic recipe.

At Barrel 44's Short North location, the first barrel-aged creation will be ready this weekend. It's an "experimental" twist on the Last Word recipe using OYO White Rye, green Chartreuse and Luxardo Maraschino Liqueur.