If you’re not a frequenter of bars with robust mixology programs, the miniature barrel behind the bar, with its stand and tiny spout, might look out of place. But it is not a piggy bank. Toasted and charred in various combinations, barrels transform raw, new-make spirits into the whiskey, rum and other brown spirits we so adore. But they also do magic for cocktails, which can be barrel-aged in their entirety.
The makings of, say, a Manhattan — rye or bourbon, sweet vermouth and bitters — go into a barrel for a time. There, they integrate, getting to know each other a little better, and the result can be poured and served on the rocks or stirred and garnished for one of the most delicious (and fastest) cocktails around. A few are bottled and available for purchase (try the Manhattan and Boulevardier from Utah’s High West Distillery). But if you wander into these Las Vegas bars, you’re in for a housemade, barrel-aged treat you won’t soon forget.
Petrossian Bar in Bellagio
At the Forbes Travel Guide Four-Star hotel’s dark-wood lobby bar, classic cocktails mingle with modern originals. And at the crossroad of the two is the standard barrel-aged Negroni, a technique popularized by barman Jeffrey Morgenthaler in Portland’s Clyde Common bar in 2010. By aging Bombay Sapphire gin, Campari and Carpano Antica Formula sweet vermouth in new American oak barrels for approximately three weeks, the complexity of the wood is infused into the cocktail, complementing the herbaceous flavors of the finished product. Upon your order, three ounces are poured straight from the barrel into a mixing glass of ice, stirred and the contents served either up or on the rocks with an orange peel baton.
At this very moment, a Negroni of a different kind is quietly aging behind the bar at downtown’s newest watering hole, owned and operated by sisters Christina and Pamela Dylag, with help from a crack team of bartenders. Equal parts St. George Terroir gin, Campari and Dolin Rouge sweet vermouth are aged for two weeks in a 10-liter virgin new-oak barrel from Alameda, California’s St. George Spirits, making for a Franco-Italian-American accord. After it’s bottled to stop the process, the cocktail can be served up or on the rocks. Already on deck are two more cocktails, one based on St. George’s Breaking & Entering bourbon and the other on Rhum Clement. Try the Negroni before dinner to whet your appetite, as Campari is a prized aperitivo.
Social in The Palms
The 46 & Barrel begins its life as a grocery list: two cups dried cherries, two cups dried figs, six 750-mililiter bottles of Maker’s Mark 46 and three liters of Carpano Antica Formula sweet vermouth. These go into an airtight container to infuse for 72 hours, after which the solids come out and the booze goes into a three-gallon, white American-oak barrel for 48 hours. To serve, bartenders at The Palms’ new center bar spray a bourbon glass with two to three pumps of atomized orange bitters. In a separate mixing glass, two ounces of the infused liquor gets a couple of dashes of Angostura aromatic bitters; after 15 seconds of stirring with ice, the cocktail is strained over a large-format ice sphere in the bittered bourbon glass. Only a slice of orange is needed to garnish this sociable sipper.
Verandah in Four Seasons Hotel Las Vegas
The Manhattan and the Negroni get the barrel treatment at the Four Seasons’ poolside restaurant — the former being aged eight weeks in wood and garnished with a brandied cherry, the latter resting 12 weeks and finished with a flamed orange peel — but it’s the Baffi di Satana that gets the nod for best in glass. A bottle of Bombay gin, a bottle each of sweet and dry vermouth, a half-bottle of Grand Marnier and three ounces of orange bitters converge for 10 weeks in a small barrel. Bartenders add a splash of orange juice and a lemon twist for a cocktail that can be enjoyed up or on the rocks.
Known for going big, The Cosmopolitan went all in when it launched its barrel-aging program early last year. Full-size, 53-gallon barrels age peacefully in a corner of the Talon Club’s high-limit gaming lounge, large enough to supply all of the property’s casino bars with The Cosmopolitan’s signature 12-Year Itch, a 3:2:1 blend of Zaya 12-year-old rum, Fernet Branca and Carpano Antica Formula sweet vermouth aged four months in a Templeton rye barrel. The first barrel’s gone, but another batch will likely be put up in early 2014. Also in the works: barrel-aged Fireball.
Wherever Andrew Pollard Is…
A bartender-turned-corporate-mixologist, Wirtz Beverage Nevada’s Andrew Pollard is something of a Johnny Appleseed, installing barrel-aged cocktail programs all over town. At Sage in ARIA Resort & Casino, he’s established the Empire State (Hudson Manhattan rye, Root liqueur, Punt e Mes vermouth/amaro and Angostura aromatic bitters). At the MGM Grand’s new casino bar, Whiskey Down, it’s the Outlaw (cocoa-infused Breaking & Entering Bourbon and Carpano Antica Formula sweet vermouth with espresso whipped cream and sea salt). And at Rao’s in Caesars Palace, bourbon goes to Italy for the E. 114th (Knob Creek Single Barrel Select bourbon, Amaro Montenegro, Carpano Antica Formula sweet vermouth and Angostura orange bitters).
Photos Courtesy of Palms Casino Resort