Barrels of fun at cocktail hour at Circo in Bath
If you imagine something being barrel-aged, you probably think of huge barrels holding gallons of liquid.
At Circo on South Parade, Bath however, they are working on a slightly smaller scale – for now at any rate.
On top of the bar sits a petite barrel, holding just two litres of the cocktail.
"It's Turkish oak and it cost £50 from eBay," said manager Bella Newman.
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"The staff laughed at me when I first brought it in though. Everyone thought it was going to be much bigger than this."
The cocktail inside – the Aged-viation – is a modern twist on an old cocktail called the Aviation.
The Aviation was originally created by Hugo Ensslin, head bartender at the Hotel Wallick in New York, in the early twentieth century and the first published recipe for the drink appeared in Ensslin's 1916 Recipes for Mixed Drinks. Ensslin's recipe called for 1½ oz. El Bart gin, ¾ oz lemon juice, two of dashes maraschino liqueur, and two dashes of crème de violette.
"The creme de violette gave the cocktail a sky blue colour, which gave it its name." explains Bella. "Spirits back then were nothing like we have today though. They were much stronger. The creme do violette isn't the same colour nowadays, it is more purple than blue.
"The Aviation is a fantastic cocktail but it is also a bit of a forgotten drink so I thought it would be a great one to use."
Ageing in the barrel is a combination of Bombay Sapphire Gin and Luxardo Maraschino, the other ingredients are added just before serving.
"Ingredients like lemon need to be fresh," said Bella. "The characteristics change over time and that would change the flavour. If the recipe calls for fresh lemon juice then it needs to be fresh."
The first batch was left for 90 days over Christmas and New Year, but it proved so popular that it didn't last long and the second batch is well on its way to being finished too.
Bella is insistent though that the barrel ageing is not just a gimmick, but adds something special to the drink.
"The wood gives it colour, " she said, holding the liquid up to the light. The raw ingredients are colourless, but what is coming out of the barrel is a pale straw colour.
"It is exactly the same effect as that produced by ageing a white wine in an oak barrel.
"There also vanillins in natural wood which are released to add to the flavour," she added. "And the process turns the liquid viscose and thick and makes it smoother and silky."
Although the effects of the ageing are tangible, the process is far from scientific. "It is an experimental thing," said Bella. "I read about a competition where some bars in London were ageing cocktails and I thought it would be fun to try.
"We need to get another barrel now though so we can make even more. And maybe a slightly bigger one this time."