Experimenting with Barrel-Aged Ice

by | Aug 19, 2013 | Mixology | 4 comments

One of the main reasons I started A Bar Above was not just to educate others, but to experiment with new things. Today marks our first true “experimentation” post!

I’ve been running a barrel-aged cocktail program at my work for about two years now, so I’ve rinsed out quite a few barrels. At some point I began to wonder – what would happen if we left the rinse-water in the barrel to age, then used that to make ice? Let’s find out!

Our Experiment with Barrel-Aged Ice:

How’d We Do it?

First, we started with a barrel that we’d used in the past for barrel-aging cocktails.  This part isn’t absolutely necessary, but if you were starting with a fresh barrel I would definitely expect different results.

  • Fill the barrel with water and let it age for 10-14 days (Here’s a similar barrel, if you’re looking for one – Affiliate link)
  • Empty the barrel into a pot and boil the water over the stove (for safety reasons)
  • Put cooled water into an ice tray and freeze

The Results:

The first thing I noticed was just how much faster the barrel-aged ice melted than normal ice.  This is almost certainly due to the alcohol which’d been in the barrel prior, and had how seeped into the water we’d frozen.  We also noticed a really interesting crystallization pattern in the ice, which is also likely due to alcohol’s much lower freezing temperature.

Not so surprising was the color difference.  The “aged” water definitely took on some of the color of the bourbon which’d previously been in this barrel.

In a Cocktail:

Since the barrel-aged ice melts so quickly, you’ll definitely want to take that into consideration when building your cocktail.

  • I would not recommend shaking a cocktail with this ice, as it would likely melt much too fast
  • Would work well for stirred drinks, but you may not want to stir as long as you would with “normal” ice.
  • The ice definitely imparted a bourbon flavor into the drink, thanks to the cocktail we’d previously aged in the barrel.  I was surprised quite how strong this flavor was – definitely more than I expected.

So there you have it!

I was really surprised at what a dramatic difference the ice had on the drink. Though the fact that it melted so much quicker than “normal” ice also meant that more of the barrel-aged water got into the cocktail itself.  By the way, this is where we buy our Oak Barrels for aging cocktails (and now water!)

Thanks for joining us for this week’s video! I’d love to hear your thoughts on how barrel-aged ice (or water) could be used in other cocktails. Comment here or on our Facebook page!  Let us know what you think!

Click Here to view the Transcript

Hi, everyone! This is Chris from ABarAbove.com and today we’re going to be doing one of my new types of posts and that is experimenting. And today we’re going to be experimenting with ice.

So I’ve been running a barrel-aged cocktail program for the last year and a half and I’ve always had this thought at the back of my head, “Hey, wouldn’t it be interesting to fill these barrels that I’ve been using over the last year and a half or so with water, extract some of the flavors that have been building inside these barrels, make ice out of that water, and see if it contributes to or detracts from the cocktail?” So what I have in this barrel here is–in the interior lining, obviously, the wood has soaked up a lot of the characteristics of the bourbon and the sweets removed and the bitters that I’ve added to it–but this is full of water at the moment. I’ve actually let the water sit for about 10 to 14 days. And what I’m going to do is pull the water out of that barrel, I’m going to freeze it, and then we’re going to examine the ice that comes out of it after it’s all frozen. And after that point, we’re going to make a cocktail or probably just pour some bourbon over the ice and see if it helps or detracts from the final taste of the whiskey or bourbon. So that’s the plan. Let’s see what happens. And you’ll be able to see pretty quickly what happens just by my face: it’s that disgusting and it’s going to be hilarious to watch. So stay tuned!

So now we’re going to pour the water from the barrel into the glass. We want to show you the color changed that’s happened over the last two weeks that the water has been in contact with all that wood and the bourbon. So you can definitely see the color change that’s happened. So here we have the two different ice side by side. This one here is the regular ice: all of this is water. And this one here is our barrel ice. And you can immediately see the color difference. What we might not be able to see on camera is the textural difference between the two: the barrel ice has a lot more crystals in it, it just got a texture all the way through it, whereas the ice is just like ice that you would get in a restaurant. The one thing that you might not be able to see is, but that we’re noticing, is just how much faster the barrel ice is melting versus the regular standard ice. Obviously, there’s alcohol that is present in this ice just because it’s in the barrel. So it doesn’t surprise me that it’s melting so much faster. The biggest shock to me is actually just the crystal structure on the ice that is different between the two. Shouldn’t be that big as a surprise, but it’s just an interesting observation.

So there you have it. It’s been an interesting experiment and something that I will probably have fun with in the future. One of the applications that I’m already seeing right now is, as the ice melts, it actually imparts a lot more flavor to the drink. The one obvious point is that, if I was going to serve a barrel-aged Manhattan on the rocks, why not use the ice from the water from that exact same barrel? It’s essentially the same thing as–you’ve probably heard of the term–“branch water.” So you’re returning or adding more flavor to it than you would normally with just regular ice. So that’s the first application I see. The second application I see is that, if you want to add another interesting way or flavor with a completely different cocktail, that’s something you can do with this. It’s going to be really, really subtle, but it’s definitely a possibility. I wouldn’t recommend shaking with the barrel ice. I don’t know if you can see it or not, but it fractures a lot easier than regular ice. I can see the crystals running all the way through it and it kind of breaks apart pretty quickly and it melts very quickly. So I’d probably suggest not using it for shaking, but definitely, if you’re going to be stirring cocktail, I can see this being a really interesting addition to it. Or if you’re just putting cocktail over ice, this’ll be another additional layer of complexity that you add to your final drink. So those are my thoughts on barrel-aged ice and we’ll continue to have fun and experiment with this in different ways. One of my wife’s thoughts that she brought out to me before filming was, “Hey, wouldn’t it be interesting to take the water out of the barrel carbonated and served it in the cocktail?” So we might try that next. So stay tuned, but until then have a great shift and we look forward to seeing you next time. Cheers!