In a bar far far away, at a time long, long ago (2009 to be precise), the seeds of one of the greatest cocktail trends the most recent cocktail golden age has seen were sown. In 2015, the world production of miniature oak barrels could not keep up with demand.
The trend had spread its high-alcohol infection from North London in 2009 at a bar called, well, it doesn’t have a name. The address is 69, Colebrook Row. The owner, Toni Conigliaro, was experimenting with aged Manhattans in glass jars. Visiting bartender from northwest USA, Jeffrey Morgenthaler, tried Toni’s aged concoctions. So impressed, he went back to his own bar, The Clyde Common, and did the same, but in oak barrels.
From there the trend spread from the Portland, Oregon, bar scene, reaching the West coast and East coast of the USA in the same year.
By late 2010, notable London bars were in on the act, from Mayfair to Hackney. Edinburgh, famed for its cocktail bar scene. wasn’t far behind. Then the migration of ideas and knowledge was rapid in today’s nano-fast cocktail culture. Asia was exposed to the trend through Hong Kong bartenders Antonio Lai and Maxence Traverse. Max started with rum aged Negronis, Old Fashioneds and Sazeracs in 2012 at Honi Honi tiki bar – Antonio in the same year with a six-month aged Manhattan at Quinary.
Manhattan bar in the Regent Hotel, Singapore, opened with a barrel aging programme that features over 100 barrels, proving the trend has gone from little more than an experiment in a bar in North London to being the central feature on a serious five-star hotel bar menus in little over five years.
Meanwhile in the sleepy cocktail backwater that is Vietnam, at last the waters are stirring…
Ratcha Room, Sorae, Shri and soon-to-open Qui all feature various forms of barrel-aged cocktails on their menus.
Ratcha Room, 2014
‘Ratcha Nail’ by Greg Jacobs: Cutty Sark Whisky and Drambuie (aged two months)
Sorae, Sept 2014
‘Sumo Old Fashioned’ by Richie Fawcett: Bacon-washed Brugal rum, orange bitters and maple syrup (aged 30 days)
Shri – Whisky Pop-up Bar, Nov 2015
‘The Grandfather’ by Richie Fawcett: Macallan 12 yr and Amaretto (aged six to eight months)
Qui, April 2016
‘Boulevardier’ by Thanh Tung: Gin, Campari and Martini Rosso (aged 35 days)
Shri Restaurant and Lounge manager Richie Fawcett is a designer and artist who sits on Asia’s 50 best bars voting panel and is responsible for training many of Vietnam’s best bartenders.