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What We’re Drinking: Barrel Aged Cocktails

Bistro Niko’s “Monteleone” is not your average cocktail. In fact, it doesn’t even feel fair to call it just a cocktail. What it is though is bourbon, dry curacao, and sweet vermouth that’s aged in a port barrel anywhere from three to six weeks. When it’s finally ready to enjoy, it’s served over a single ice cube in a low ball glass dashed with Angostura bitters.

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The Monteleone is the brainchild of Manager Tommy Mclaren, who has been with Bistro Niko since its opening in 2009. He’s the kind of guy who’s always pulling bottles down from the bar, urging you to try what he’s creating, and thinking aloud about what he might try next. In short, he’s exactly the kind of guy you want to talk (and taste) cocktails with.

Fascinated by the New Orleans cocktail renaissance of the mid-1800s, Mclaren began with a fixation on the Sazerac. He then he moved on to the Vieux Carre, a lesser-known bourbon and cognac-based drink that was created by the head bartender at you guessed it, The Monteleone Hotel in New Orleans in 1938. His intention was to take the spirit of what was happening then, the intense creativity, the serious devotion to high quality spirits, and translate it into a cocktail that people would enjoy and appreciate today.

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Mclaren has been perfecting the drink for several months. His original vision was a drink that was dark and solid, essentially a dream for serious bourbon drinkers, and the written recipe fully suggests it would be. But, after weeks of turning the barrel and patiently waiting for the first taste, Mclaren found a cocktail that was complex with a balanced sweetness and had bright, underlying notes of ripe citrus. So if you can’t quite put your finger on what’s so surprisingly special about this drink, you’re not alone. It wasn’t until the next batch that Mclaren discovered that the port barrel was responsible for unlocking the complexity of the dry curacao, yielding complex flavors of orange, not one-dimensional sweetness.

McLaren recommends making a large batch (half gallon) of this cocktail for your next party for easy hosting.

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Mclaren recommends making a large batch (half gallon) of this cocktail for your next party for easy hosting.

The Monteleone Cocktail
12 cups Angel’s Envy Bourbon (12 cups)
2 cups Pierre Ferrand Dry Curacao (2 cups)
2 cups Dolin Rouge Sweet Vermouth (2 cups)
2 dashes Bitters 18.21 original bitters (add in each glass before serving serving)

Combine first three ingredients and allow to age 3 to 6 weeks.
When ready to serve, add 2 dashes bitters in a lowball glass with one large cube ice and top with the aged drink.

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