October 2013

Who's Serving What: Prospect, San Francisco

By: The Tasting Panel Editorial Team

Venue: Prospect, San Francisco
Serving: Doc Brown, a barrel-aged cocktail

Barrel-aged cocktails have been around since the 19th century. In fact, in Jerry Thomas's Bar-tenders Guide (published in 1862) , the man often referred to as the "father of American mixology" makes reference to a "Bottled Cocktail," made using a base of brandy, and also includes recipes for versions using gin and bourbon, as well as essence and punch recipes specifically for bottling. Bartenders around the country have been experimenting with barrel-aged cocktails for a few years, and the trend only continues to grow.

At Prospect restaurant in San Francisco, Bar Director Davin Affrunti sees a sustained interest in barrel-aged cocktails. In a program he calls "28 Days Later," a reference to the length of time his cocktails are aged in sherry casks before they are ready for consumption, Davin is creating new riffs on classic cocktails. The barrel-aging adds depth and complexity to his concoctions. The restaurant's current offering is a Doc Brown ($12), a blend of gin, dry vermouth, Cynar and Domaine de Canton Ginger Liqueur, stirred with sage for a hint of herbaceousness.

Next up at Prospect this winter is a barrel-aged cocktail named Voyage Ink, which will feature white rum, spiced rum, Cardamaro Amaro, and Woodford Reserve Spiced Cherry Bitters.  When it comes out of the barrel, the cocktail will be stirred with a bar spoon of housemade Autumn Spiced Syrup, and finished with orange zest.

  • For those adventurous enough to try barrel-aging at home, Davin offers his DIY tips:
  • Do not include citrus or syrups in the barrel. Both have a shelf life, and will spoil the batch.
  • Fill the barrel completely. Oxidation, which is relative to surface area exposed to air, can cause you to lose product. The fuller the barrel, the less you will lose.  This is very similar to the techniques used in winemaking, and since fortified wine products such as vermouth are often used in barrel-aging, the same precautions need to be taken.
  • Taste often, several times a week. Your palate will tell you when it is ready. The smooth, oaky roundness will be detected.
  • Be patient. Some cocktails may only need 3 weeks, others may need 3 months.  And don't be discouraged if a batch turns out disappointing. This can always be doctored later on with bitters, syrups, citrus, etc.
  • When it is ready, always fine strain.

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