Bartenders explore barrel-ageing through competition


Chris Tanner Experimental Cocktail ClubThe benefits of barrel-ageing spirits for cocktails were demonstrated in a competition won by Chris Tanner (pictured) of London’s Experimental Cocktail Club.

He was one of nine London bartenders who were challenged to create a drink using either Buffalo Trace bourbon or Buffalo Trace White Dog unaged spirit.

Chris’s prize will be an all-expenses-paid trip to the Buffalo Trace Distillery in Kentucky later this year. The panel of industry judges praised all the contenders “for their imagination, and for the flavour and quality of all the drinks”.

Hi-Spirits, UK distributor of the Buffalo Trace portfolio, provided each of the bartenders with a bar-top barrel made of the same oak that is used to age bourbon at the distillery.

Each cocktail had to contain ingredients which had been aged in the barrel for at least a day, although most of the contenders aged spirits for a week or more.

Adam Marks of Hi-Spirits, who organised the competition, said: “By barrel-ageing spirits before using them in cocktails, they develop deeper and more complex flavours from the wood.

“Many bartenders also use their own ‘wash’, such as wine or sherry, to rinse the barrel before adding the spirit, creating a further depth of flavour.”

The contest to select the best overall cocktail was held at Match Bar in the West End. Each bartender was asked to make their drink with the barrel-aged ingredients, as well as to the same recipe without barrel ageing.

Chris’s winning cocktail was Le 13eme, French for “the thirteenth”, made with a champagne reduction and Buffalo Trace White Dog. He said: “The name and the use of champagne connects the brand’s heritage with the history of the cocktail in French New Orleans, while the 13 is a reference to the fact there are 12 warehouses at the Buffalo Trace distillery – so my barrel is the thirteenth.

“I was trying to make classic drinks accessible as well as to get all the flavour out of the White Dog. It’s quite simple, but the champagne reduction and the corn from the mash, when aged in the barrel, creates a really nice vanilla flavour.”

Andy Mil, Match Bar
In second place was a cocktail named “A Sloe Not So Comfortable Screw Against A Sandy Wall During Derby With A Jockey In A Cape”, which was created by Andy Mil (pictured) of Match Bar. It is a fusion of a number of popular cocktails, made with apricot- and vanilla-infused barrel-aged Buffalo Trace.

Andy explains the name as follows: “Sloe” for sloeberrys; “Not So Comfortable”: for the apricot- and vanilla-infused Buffalo Trace; “Screw” for the orange sorbet; “Sandy” for the peach bitters used in a Sex on the Beach; “Wall” for the Galliano; “Derby” for the mint used in a Mint Julep; “Jockey” because it is a twist on a Jockey Club; and “Cape” for the cranberries used in a Cape Codder.

Third place went to Chidde Ly of Hakkasan with Monks Prescription no 6, which used barrel-aged Buffalo Trace and Bénèdictine.

Each cocktail has been added to the drinks list at the bar where they were created, and there are plans to produce a Buffalo Trail map of London later this year, featuring all the bars.

One cocktail, Persephone’s Pot created by Fabio Frittoli of Aqua Nueva in Regent Street, will also be served at the RHS Chelsea Flower Show this month.

The judges were Steve Horne, manager of The Crobar in Soho, drinks writer Claire Dodd, Simon Webster of BarLifeUK, and Ian Bayliss, elite brands ambassador for Hi-Spirits.

Claire said: “Although the entrants were given the same basic materials, the diverse range of processes they used resulted in a hugely varied array of cocktails, which was great to see. A lot of imagination had been used in how to best display the qualities of the barrel-ageing process.”

The other bartenders competing were Roy Varty of UnderDog, Paul Loki of Mint Leaf Lounge, Matteo Cazzaniga of Skylon, Tom Prosser of Honky Tonk and Tony Safqi of Shaka Zulu.


Le 13eme by Chris Tanner

40ml Buffalo Trace White Dog
5ml Champagne reduction
5ml Amer Picon
20ml Carpano Antica Formula

Served over ice


A Sloe Not So Comfortable Screw Against A Sandy Wall During Derby With A Jockey In A Cape, created by Andy Mil

50ml Apricot- and vanilla-infused Buffalo Trace
25ml Sloe and cranberry vac-packed vermouth
15ml Galliano L’Autentico
3 dashes of peach bitters

Age in a barrel in the same proportions as shown above. Strain 65ml of the aged cocktail over crushed ice and mint into an ice lolly tube. Cap with orange sorbet and Love Hearts. Garnish with edible bubbles flavoured with a Boulevardier cocktail (bourbon, Campari and sweet vermouth) and a lemon twist


Monks Prescription no 6 by Chidde Ly

45ml Buffalo Trace
15ml Bénèdictine DOM
15ml Tokaji Szamorodni dessert wine
3/4 drops of liquorice bitters

Age the Buffalo Trace and Bénèdictine in the barrel. Stir all the ingredients and strain into a coupette glass. Garnish with an orange twist.


Persephone’s Pot by Fabio Frittoli

40ml Buffalo Trace
30ml Moscato infused with sweet cicely and rose-scented geranium
7 drops of lavender bitters
20ml Rosehip and hibiscus tea syrup
5ml Bergamot

The cocktail, without the bergamot juice, is stored and aged in a barrel previously washed with oloroso sherry and rose-flower water. The cocktail is poured through the barrel’s tab into the Boston glass, shaken with bergamot and strained over ice cubes into a small teapot-shaped flower pot. Garnish with lavender, edible chocolate earth and grapefruit shredders.

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