The New Golden Age
Las Vegas takes on barrel-aged cocktails
We’ve been putting our booze in barrels since before the time of the Roman Empire, so we’ve learned a thing or two by now about how oak imparts certain qualities to liquor. Lately, bartenders, mixologists and distillers have been actively playing around with these variables more than ever, re-aging spirits that normally wouldn’t spend time in a barrel or putting entire mixed cocktails in barrels behind the bar. The end results are tasty beverages that have had time to mellow and allow their true flavor to open up—the kind of libations that make you want to take notes.
You’ll want to explore this trend with a barrel-aged version of a familiar drink: N9NE Steakhouse at Palms remastered a classic American cocktail and found a new best seller. The fig-infused Manhattan is a smooth drink with hints of chocolatey goodness and a very subtle bite, the end result of steeping figs in Wild Turkey 101 rye before barrel aging for a month.
Rao’s E. 114th cocktail is another Manhattan spin-off (much like the Caesars Palace restaurant that serves it), using Knob Creek Single Barrel bourbon instead of rye and changing its fundamental character. Subtly sweet and a bit floral without ever tasting sugary or candied, this drink has an enchanting scent thanks to the combined bourbon and Amaro Montenegro liqueur—be sure to allow the amarena cherry garnish to soak in the liquor for a treat at the end.
Rao’s is also home to a deceptive pink beverage, the Sicilian Sour, made with Caesars Palace’s exclusive batch of Herradura Double reposado tequila. The tequila is aged in oak for 11 months before being moved to a second, toasted oak barrel for a month. The result is the “Italian margarita” a standout in its “genre,” with Solerno Blood Orange liqueur, fresh ruby red grapefruit juice and fresh lemon wonderfully complementing with the tequila.
Some barrel-aged cocktails are crafted almost artfully, playing with multiple aspects of the drink’s flavor profile or throwing in another process to interact with the barrel-aged ingredients. For instance, the way Hakkasan’s (MGM Grand) Smoky Negroni is prepared always turns heads at the bar. Filling a decanter with the mixed Negroni and pumping it with smoke from Grand Marnier-soaked wood chips, the bartender artfully swishes the two together before pouring it into a rocks glass with an ice sphere. It creates a complex and delightful cocktail with hints of oak and orange.
Hakkasan’s MGM Grand counterpart Whiskey Down’s Down-Home Punch features another exclusive: Woodford Reserve Double Oaked MGM Select Barrel bourbon, blended with white peach, mint, lemon juice and brewed tea, for a rich, butterscotch-and-toffee flavor and unique texture.
Inside Mandalay Place, Rx Boiler Room’s barrel-aged cocktails feature ingredients that are individually barrel-aged in-house, with different timelines for aging each spirit or aperitif—a bit of extra work that has a big effect on flavor. Rx’s Pizzazzerac is a playful take on the Sazerac, and grabs your attention with hints of oak wood sugars, butterscotch and a subtle fruit flavor. The Gibroni Negroni also starts as a familiar cocktail but becomes smoother thanks to the barrel-aging, with a “wait-for-it” aftertaste. But that’s not the end of your barrel-aged journey. As these tasty libations show up on more cocktail menus, you’ll find your journey has only just begun.