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Barrel-Aged & Smoky Bacon Cocktails

Neil Sowerby finds that oak aging is the new pulled pork

Written by . Published on February 23rd 2015.

Barrel-Aged & Smoky Bacon Cocktails

THE exquisitely named Nathaniel de Ferne majors in classics – of the cocktail variety – at Kosmonaut and the bar manager’s latest learning curve is aging them in small barrels.

For the Queen Mary he infuses Absolut Vodka with strips of grilled, smoked bacon, then blends a double shot of this with black pudding puree...

Nate’s beard is trim rather than the hipster biblical that is de rigueur among the craft beer brigade but like them he is a barrel obsessive. Oak aging for ales is the new pulled pork. Each railway arch along the new brewing frontier at the back of Piccadilly Station boasts, or is about to, a stash of bourbon barrels. 

The imminent Cloudwater Brewery (Manc beer’s equivalent of a rock super group) may be brewing just over in Ancoats, but their new Barrel Store and ferment bar is destined for Sheffield Street nearby Chorlton Brewing Co and Alphabet, both of which also have serious plans to age their innovative ales, be they sours, saisons or porters.

As usual it’s an American trend we are following but that can be creative as well as slavish. Witness Nate’s fascinating cocktail project at Kosmonaut (which coincidentally owns Alphabet brewing).

Six classic drinks will each spend 28 days in a small oak cask to mature. The chosen tipples tell the story of the evolution of the cocktail from before and after the prohibition era. They are in this chronological order – the Martinez (circe 1860), Martini (c 1900), Negroni (c 1919), Boulevardier (c 1927) Brooklyn (c 1930) Vieux Carre (c 1933).

NateKosmonaut manager Nathaniel de Ferne

The charred American oak barrel, containing 25 or so cocktail measures will not be washed out in between developments. Instead, the flavours of the previous drink will be allowed to seep into the wood and into the newest cocktail it accommodates. The progression is from gin base, through whiskey to cognac. There will be a rolling rota of these over the next six months with each cocktail costing £8.50.

Barrel aging affects cocktails in two ways. The cask imparts flavour from the tannins, smoke from the char and general oak notes, a process known as extraction. Secondly, the ingredients interact with the air, during which time the molecules from the different ingredients mesh together to create a smoother drink. This is known as oxidisation.

Nate told me: “Following in the footsteps of great Bartenders such as Tony Conigliaro (69 Colebrook Row) I decided to create a series of Barrel Aged Cocktails. By applying modern techniques I hope to create a blend of the old and the new, with a little taste of history in each cocktail”

Did he succeed? Well, I was lucky enough to arrive just as the Negroni was unleashed on the world. Equal parts powerful potato-based Cold River gin, vermouth and Campari, it tasted mellow and orangey. I was less sure if the Gin Martini had benefited greatly from the process, apart from acquiring a slightly sherryish tinge and slight sweetness. Maybe it needs more time.

The first of the bunch was the genuine revelation. This Martinez, made from equal parts of Warner Edwards Dry Gin and Cocchi de Torino sweet vermouth with a dash of maraschino, retained a hint of sweetness while offering a beguiling complexity and length.

Cocktail of the month: Smoky Bacon Bloody MaryCocktail of the month: Smoky Bacon Bloody Mary


The Queen Mary, a smoky bacon-led variation on The Bloody Mary, is the creation of Tiki Tony, bar manager at  the Smithfield Social in the basement of revamped Bluu. It approaches the nirvana of a barbecue cocktail – in line with the Southern States smoker that dominaties the menu now at the revamped NQ bar.

Tony (his parents christened him Paul Lovett) has been given full rein to craft TEN exclusive cocktails with a smoke element – the likes of Aztec Old-Fashioned, Gingerbead Man-Hattan, Monsieur Basil, Gentleman’s Tipple. The names alone are enticing, the prices reasonable at between £8.25 and £8.95.

For the Queen Mary he infuses Absolut Vodka with strips of grilled, smoked bacon, then blends a double shot of this with black pudding puree before adding a secret spice mix and a splash of tomato juice. After a slow shake it’s presented on a wooden board with a hickory smoked celery stick, homemade horseradish sauce and a fresh fennel pork scratching.

Not to everyone's taste, I'll give you that.

Follow Neil Sowerby on Twitter @AntonEgoManc

Kosmonaut, 10 Tariff Street, Manchester M1 2FF.

Bluu, Smithfield Market Buildings, corner of Thomas Street and High Street, M4 1BD.

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