Are Underwater, Barrel-Aged Cocktails the Next Big Trend?

Local bartender Nick Korn is attempting to adapt a European winemaking practice to the mixology field.

underwater spirits

An underwater barrel-aged daiquiri at Drink. Photo by Nick Korn

If you were able to attend last weekend’s Tiki Sunday at Drink, you probably saw guest bartender Nick Korn’s barrel-aged daiquiri submerged in a fish tank full of water. So, why the elaborate setup? Korn adopted the idea from Spanish winemaker Raul Perez, who barrel-ages his Sketch albariño in the depths of the Atlantic Ocean, where the temperature is a consistent 55-degrees, UV-damaging light is absent, and oxygen contamination is mitigated.

“Perez was reading about these wines that were being auctioned off at Christie’s,” Korn says. “Treasure hunters were finding these old wine bottles from the eighteenth century that were sitting on shipwrecks. What they were finding was because of the depth, they were stored at an ideal temperature, light wasn’t penetrating the bottle, and the cork didn’t dry out. It was like the perfect wine cellar. These were wines that were 200 plus years old that were still in great shape because they had been aged in a perfect environment.”

The anaerobic practice, which has now been adapted by such venerable estates as Louis Roederer (the makers of Cristal), Chateau Larrivet Haut-Brion, and Gaia Wines, inspired Korn to start thinking about the ongoing trend of barrel-aged cocktails. Due to oxidation, bartenders have been limited to spirit-based drinks such as Negronis and Manhattans. “If you leave lime juice or any other citrus out in the open, it oxidizes and gets really bitter,” Korn says. “That’s why bartenders have to cut fresh citrus everyday, they’re trying to avoid that oxidation. My idea was to create an oxygen-deprived environment to explore other cocktails that incorporate fresh fruit and herbs.”

Korn, the founder of Offsite, acquired a five-liter, new American oak barrel and filled the vessel with a blend of Bacardi Heritage, lime juice, and simple syrup. Next he purchased a large fish tank off of Craigslist and his Offsite partner Ray Tremblay anchored the barrel to the bottom. After a day, Korn served the underwater-aged concoction to patrons at Drink, where it sold out within hours.

“Two main things happen when you barrel age anything: oxidation, which we were able to avoid; and extraction, which was more dramatic with the daiquiri, because the lime helped draw out the vanilla and coconut flavors from the wood,” Korn says.

Naysayers will almost assuredly scoff at the abbreviated length of Korn’s initial undertaking, but the bartender is already back at work, attempting a perishable cocktail that will age for up to a week. You can catch Korn’s latest attempt at Silvertone, where he regularly tends bar.