Barrel-aged cocktails may be trending, but Nuno’s Bistro & Bar’s permanent and extensive barrel-aged bar program carries the concept to full maturity.
story and photos by Elyse Glickman
Whenever interesting barrel-aged cocktails from Los Angeles’ destination bars are reviewed by critics or surface on social media, craft cocktail enthusiasts from far-off suburbs will brave an hour-plus trek to try those two or three selections. Nuno’s Bistro & Bar, meanwhile, has turned that trend on its head by building an entire bar program focused on barrel-aged cocktails, drawing Downtown L.A. trendsetters to Upland, CA in the process.
According to Nuno’s Bar Manager Ramon Aguirre, the program has grown steadily since Nuno’s opened in 2014. He points to a wall lined with nearly 50 American oak barrels attained from their vendors. He then says that he and owner Joey “Nuno” Medeiros plan to double both the size of the display and barrel count by early 2020, especially since they have a waiting list of spirit companies wanting to get involved with the program.
“When we opened Nuno’s four years ago, we started with one barrel-aged cocktail,” explains Aguirre. “It then occurred to us that it made sense to offer many barrel-aged classics like Manhattans and Sidecars. From there, we started creating original recipes. Initially, our spirit distributors didn’t believe in the idea, and we put in almost as much time getting them interested as we did developing our recipes. I ultimately realized that since I was buying their spirits, I could do with them whatever I wanted. Our regular customers loved it, new customers came in through word of mouth, and now those distributors and many others want to be a part of what we’re doing.”
Medeiros explains that Nuno’s Bistro & Bar was designed to be the “perfect marriage between a bistro and bar” with the bar program equaling the effort and creativity of the kitchen and its dinner menu, which fuses Spanish, Portuguese, and French inspirations. Therefore, the bar itself had to be treated like a kitchen—bitters, tinctures, and simple syrups had to be made in-house, from scratch.
“Our approach allows us to create cocktails that are exclusively our own, even when they’re based on classics that have been around for decades,” says Aguirre. “While most of our barrel cocktails are bourbon-, Scotch-, and anejo tequila–based drinks, we are moving towards more gin, rum, brandy, and vodka options. We want more people to come in and have fun with the cocktails individually, in flights, or as part of our tasting dinners. This includes bartenders and bar managers from other restaurants. We hope to be an inspiration to them.”
“While I’m happy with the concept as it stands now, I’m always open to new ideas that come about if they fit the script of our continuing goals,” says Medeiros. “Parity between our food and beverage programs is integral to what makes Nuno’s unique and why people keep coming from everywhere to experience it.”