Barrel aged cocktails are a fairly new development on the cocktail scene. I first heard about them last year from Oregon based bartender and (now mostly inactive)cocktail blogger Jeffrey Morgenthaler who posted about his experience putting cocktails into oak barrels. Morgenthaler experimented with Manhattans and Negronis and reported that after five to six weeks, the oak casks had significantly enhanced the cocktail, adding oak notes and tannins, melding flavors and smoothing the impact of the vermouth.
Shortly thereafter, I heard that David Perkins at High West had done the same thing with Manhattans but was only selling them at the distillery. Now, High West is more widely distributing the barrel aged Manhattan and they recently arrived in California where the going price is around $45.
High West's barreled Manhattan, 36th Vote, is named to commemorate its home state of Utah's vote that sealed the deal for the repeal of prohibition. It's made from two parts High West Double Rye, one part sweet vermouth and two dashes of Angostura bitters for every 2.5 ounces. It then goes into a two year old rye whiskey barrel where it ages for 120 days. It weighs in at 37% abv.
David Perkins recently put on a tasting for the LA Whiskey Society where he let us sample the 36th Vote side by side with an pre-barrel sample. The pre-barrel sample was a fine Manhattan but it was a bit sweet, almost cloyingly so, which may be due to the vermouth (Perkins could only choose from vermouths available wholesale in Utah). It wasn't exceptional and I would have preferred the ones I make at home.
The barrel aged Manhattan was a completely different story; the sweetness had ebbed, the flavors had married and there was a slight woodiness that brought out the rye. It really was a wonderful Manhattan and better than the vast majority I've had in bars. I would happily pour it at home.