Earlier this year Natasha Bahrami started a barrel-aged gin program at The Gin Room, a St. Louis cocktail bar located in the front room of Café Natasha, Bahrami’s family’s Persian restaurant. Bahrami learned the finer points of gin while working in bars in Washington, D.C. before returning to her hometown of St. Louis in May 2014.
While in D.C., Bahrami thoroughly researched gin, but she also paid attention to the particular tastes of the gin-lovers who visited from Europe to California. The gin palate of her clientele differed depending on demographics, culture and personal taste.
“I learned how to read each and every patron, to craft cocktails to their varying preferences and make them comfortable enough to stray outside their safe zones,” Bahrami says. “Barrel-aged gin just happened to be one of the ways I could convince die-hard whiskey and bourbon drinkers that gin just might be their next love.”
Barrel-aging gin might seem counterintuitive for a botanical spirit, but the process does impart noticeable nuances to an already assertive flavor profile.
“The aging process mellows gin’s juniper and botanical notes while subtly adding prominent malt to the profile, which is not usually found in gin,” says Bahrami, who has accumulated a collection of nine barrel-aged gins distributed in St. Louis, and nine in her private collection. “I found a much wider spectrum of flavor profiles that have driven me to experiment with the method and fill voids in the current barrel-aged portfolio.”
Bahrami notes that house barrel-aged gin is not new in the industry, but the gin tends to be blended with other spirits in the barrel or mixed afterward into barrel-aged cocktails. It isn’t served as a stand-alone like an aged Scotch or bourbon.
“I haven’t seen anyone touting barrel-aged gin solo,” Bahrami says. “I crave to taste a naked product that is worthy to be consumed as is. That is the real art of house barrel-aging – to allow bartenders to enhance their favorite spirit through barrels with the same creativity as they would their cocktails.”
At the beginning of the barrel-aging process, Bahrami takes new oak barrels and fills them with warm water to cure. Moisture expands the wood and keeps the oak staves tight to prevent leakage. New wood barrels use no adhesive. The staves, or slats, are only bound by metal hoops with gaps between them. She empties the water and repeats the step to allow the wood to swell and the joints to tighten. The process takes three to five days, depending on the wood and the barrel size.
After curing, gin is added for aging. Blending is where craft comes into play. “I sampled from the barrel bimonthly to gauge its maturity,” Bahrami says. “Then I aged a new batch of gin with an additional blend of botanicals including cardamom and vanilla. The last portion of the process is to delicately merge separately aged barrels into one single barrel, without overpowering with any one botanical.”
Bahrami aged Bombay Original Dry Gin to provide a warmer base for her experimentation without overwhelming the botanicals she added. “It’s a classic juniper-forward London Dry with a peppery citrus nose and warm spice from the angelica, almonds and coriander,” she says.
The gin is barrel-aged for seven months, and Bahrami began serving it in November at the eight-month mark. Aside from her own tastings to evaluate progress, Bahrami has invited guests to taste throughout the aging process.
“The final product should be worthy to be enjoyed as a sipping gin or, if requested, incorporated into a cocktail without overpowering the spirit,” she says. “I am leaning toward a Twisted Martinez to showcase its full potential.”
The Gin Room, 3200 S. Grand Blvd., South Grand, St. Louis, Missouri, 314.771.3411, facebook.com/NatashasGinRoom
Aged and Sparkling
Serves | 1 |
1 oz barrel-aged gin
1 oz macerated grapes (Cognac, sugar and grapes combined and allowed to sit until the grapes break down and a syrup forms)
¼ oz simple syrup
cava or brut sparkling wine
grapes, for garnish
| Preparation | Combine first 3 ingredients in a coupe glass and top with sparking wine. Garnish with grapes and serve.
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