How to make a barrel-aged Negroni

My love of wine is well documented, but I also love cocktails, and in my opinion, the best cocktail on the planet is the Negroni. I love Negronis so much that when I was in Florence, Italy a few years ago, I insisted on making a pilgrimage to their birthplace, Caffè Giacosa. Here is a picture of me literally in heaven.

A Negroni is equal parts gin, Campari, and sweet vermouth, and like many spirit-heavy cocktails, it tastes even better if it's been aged in an oak barrel. Basically, this allows the ingredients to mellow out and absorb a bit of smokiness from the wood, resulting in an incredibly smooth, delicious cocktail—and since you'll decant it from the barrel, you'll have a carafe of pre-mixed Negronis ready to drink at any time! Here's how to do it. 

Step 1: prep your barrel
I have a two-liter barrel from Tuthilltown Spirits (it was one of my favorite Christmas presents ever, after the Barbie townhouse). Yours will likely come with some sort of preparation instructions—I had to fill mine with hot water and let it sit for a day or two to cure the wood so it's airtight. You don't want to lose any of that precious Negroni to leakage! This may make a bit of a mess (mine leaked at first while it was curing), but the good news is you only have to do it once.

Step 2: funnel your ingredients
You want a 1:1:1 ratio of gin, Campari, and sweet vermouth, so figure out how much that is, then pour everything into your barrel through a funnel (again, you don't want to lose any precious ingredients). One thing to note: alcohol naturally evaporates about 2% during this barrel-aging process. It's called the angel's share, and it's the small price you pay for the tastiness that's about to come.

Step 3: wait...and taste
Depending on the size of your barrel, you'll want to age your Negroni for at least 4 weeks (which is what I do). My instructions recommend giving the barrel a quarter turn once a week, which is also a good time to check in on your progress with a little taste test. You'll notice week over week that the color gets lighter—from a deep red to more of a rusty orange—and the flavor gets smoother and richer. Then, when you can't wait any longer...

Step 4: decant your barrel
I've noticed several bars pouring Negronis straight from the barrel, which may work if you're going through them at high volume, but I advise decanting yours into a glass pitcher, so that your Negroni doesn't become too smooth and smoky. Also, that way you can start aging your next batch! I advise pouring through a fine mesh sieve or a coffee filter to trap any wood particles that may have loosened. No one wants a Negroni garnished with a splinter.

Step 5: enjoy! 
The best part is that I can walk in the door from work and have a delicious cocktail in my hand in under 30 seconds, because some days you need that. It's also great for nights when you just want one drink but don't want to open an entire bottle of wine. And, did I mention how delicious they are? Cheers to that!

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