Episode 040 - Barrels and Aging

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What’s shakin, cocktail fans?

Welcome back to another episode of the Modern Bar Cart Podcast. I’m your host, Eric Kozlik, and this week, we’ve got a great crash course in barrels and aging, courtesy of our friend, Alice Blayne-Allard of Free State Cooperage.

Free State Cooperage, is a company that handcrafts locally-sourced barrels right here in the Mid-Atlantic, working with distillers who care deeply about the quality of the barrels they use to age their products.


Some of the topics we discuss include:

  • The life cycle of a barrel, from tree, to stave, to whiskey vessel, and beyond.
  • The physics of aged spirits, and how barrel size, temperature, humidity, and char level all affect the process
  • Meditations on the terroir of aged spirits, and how local wood has local flavor
  • Some thoughts on barrel aged cocktails
  • The not-so-subtle irony of George Washington’s role in putting down the Whiskey Rebellion
  • And much, much more

Alice and Free State Cooperage are putting the finishing touches on their facility, and will be offering tours and tastings hopefully sometime in the near future. So definitely hit them up at freestatecooperage.com, or follow them on Facebook to stay abreast of those updates.

Featured Cocktail: The Tipperary Cocktail

Irish Whiskey.jpg

Today’s featured cocktail is a bit of Irish-whiskey inspired fun, prompted by the upcoming St. Patrick’s Day festivities. And one problem I’ve always had is that Irish Whiskey is a bit too mellow for me. It’s too smooth. Too unassuming. And for me it kind of fades into the background without really making me think.

So I set out to find a cocktail featuring Irish Whiskey that I could really get behind. And that’s when I discovered the Tipperary Cocktail.

To make this drink, you need:

  • 2 oz Irish Whiskey
  • ¾ oz of Sweet Vermouth
  • ½ oz of Green Chartreuse

It’s a stirred drink, so you combine these ingredients in a mixing glass with ice, stir until chilled and properly diluted, and strain into a stemmed cocktail glass. The garnish here is a lemon twist, and it’s pretty important, because it really lifts the drink. So please don’t leave it out.

Hopefully, this gives you a nice alternative to the gallons of Guinness and Irish Car Bombs everyone else will be downing this St. Paddy’s day.  

And if the Tipperary Cocktail sounds good to you, maybe also consider cocktails like the Vieux Carre and the Diamondback, which both use similar formulations with Whiskey, vermouth, and Green Chartreuse, combined a in similar fashion.

Show Notes

During this show, we discuss many different aspects of barrels and spirit aging. Here are just a few of the terms and concepts you should know:

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Staves - These are the small wooden planks that make up the barrel. They are dried (or "cured") either by kiln, or simply by being exposed to the elements for a period of time. After that, they are selected, fitted between metal bands, and then bent using heat and moisture to form the shape of the barrel. 

Grain - This refers to the natural "pattern" of wood cells. There is a method of cutting wood called "quarter sawing" that allows barrel staves to fit tightly with one another. Working with the grain this way is crucial if you want to avoid stave leaks. When staves are quarter sawn, the grain can be perfectly realigned in the final product.

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Char - The "char level" is simply the extent to which a spirits barrel has been burnt on the inside to impart flavor to the spirit. The vast majority of spirits barrels are charred, whereas most wine barrels are not charred.

There are four levels (simply called Char 1 - Char 4), each increasing in intensity. Char 4 is often referred to as "Alligator Char" because it leaves the inside of the barrel looking like bumpy alligator skin.

Raising A barrel - This is the process of taking a collection of staves and turning it into a working barrel. There is a lot of eyeballing, rearranging, and bending required to achieve the perfect fit.

Lightning Round

Favorite Cocktail

The Manhattan

Favorite Spirit

Rye Whiskey, via Bourbon and Scotch

Cocktail with Anyone, Past or Present

George Washington, our founding distiller.

Influential Book

99 Drams of Whiskey by Kate Hopkins

Advice for New Home Bartenders

Don't be intimidated.

Craft spirits are taking off, and if you're not familiar with the spectrum that's out there, it can be intimidating. But if you're open to experiments, you'll find what you like.

Announcements & Upcoming Events

  1. If you’re interested in cocktails and the spirits industry, I’d encourage you to take a listen to the Bartender Journey Podcast, hosted by Brian Vincent Weber, who is a New York-based bartender. Brian is a great guy, and he recently interviewed Eric about Modern Bar Cart, home bartending, and the brand new Embitterment Heritage Collection.

    Here's a link to that episode - How are Cocktail Enthusiasts Influencing the Cocktail Scene?
  2. Next Wednesday, March 21, 2018, I’ll be teaming up with McClintock Distilling as part of Frederick Community College’s Handcrafted Cocktails Class.

    Here's a link to that Facebook event and Eventbrite page.
  3. The next class will be sometime in the next month or two, where we team up with our friends at Generalist and District Space to take you on a trip through cocktail history using a few of our products as guides, with lots of cocktail samples along the way.

    The best way to find out about that event is to follow us on Instagram and Facebook, so that you can be the first to hear when the details drop.