That's the Spirit: Barrels find a life outside the bar

Three years ago, Ted Kilgore let a cocktail age in a whiskey cask and served the city’s first barrel-aged cocktail at Taste six weeks later. Now that barrel-aged cocktails are on menus all over town, the aging craze has migrated out from behind the bar. Folks are dumping everything from maple syrup to milk into the cask and letting wood and time work their magic. The result: The same deep flavors, round notes, heady aroma and stunning color we expect in the glass are landing on our plates.

Worcestershire Sauce
“We needed a good steak sauce,” explained Bill Osloond, executive sous chef at River City Casino, where a barrel-aged Worcestershire sauce has been served alongside a la carte orders of steak at 1904 Steak House since December.

Recipe development went 20 rounds before the culinary team hit the jackpot with the winning 17-ingredient script, which included soy sauce, tamarind, curry powder and anchovies. “We took the gamble and filled our barrel with 52 gallons of our blend,” recounted Osloond. The River City team even built a wooden dolly on which the barrel that once held Blanton’s Kentucky Straight bourbon whiskey could be rolled (to ensure the liquid was uniformly covered) and transported. The thin sauce was served to guests after it had aged 3 months, although Osloond continues to age a portion of batch No. 1 in the barrel, with hopes that a 1-year-old steak sauce will become the house standard.

The taste? Vinegar is still at the forefront and lends the sauce a nice acid content. Tamarind pulp, warm spices like cinnamon, cloves and cardamom, and sweet molasses are easy to pick up. And thanks to the bourbon, the flavors of this dark beauty have harmonized and softened.

1904 Steak House at River City Casino, 777 River City Casino Blvd., Lemay, 314.388.7630,

Maple syrup
What do you do when the storage room is piling up fast with empty bourbon barrels? Paul Hayden, wine manager for The Wine & Cheese Place, knows that bourbon makes everything taste better – even sweet, sticky maple syrup.
The shop’s first batch of Sweet Sophie – made by aging organic Vermont maple syrup for three months in a spent Jefferson 18-year bourbon barrel – flew off the shelves when it was released last winter. Batch two, which hit the shelves in April, features the same delicious golden nectar – only this time, it rested in an empty Willett Family 9-year-old bourbon barrel.

When you grab a bottle at The Wine & Cheese Place, pause to appreciate the hand-dipped wax seal before tearing it off to get a blast of bourbon on the nose, on the tongue and, especially, at the finish.

The Wine & Cheese Place, all locations,

Pickled cauliflower
Pickled cauliflower tastes good. But that crunchy crucifer left to pickle in a sherry vinegar-based brine for a month in a spent Alvear Pedro Ximenez de Anada sherry cask tastes 10 times better. “If you tasted it by itself, you wouldn’t know how to describe it,” Vino Nadoz executive chef Chris DiMercurio said of his cask-aged cauliflower. “It’s acidic, a little sweet and, at the back end, [has] a caramelized, aged note to it that is hard to pin down, but is really nice.”

For a bite of sherry, spice and everything nice, order DiMercurio’s colorful vegetable bruschetta. Lemon mascarpone smeared on crostini and topped with a medley of butter-poached carrots, raw radish, sherry-cask aged pickled cauliflower and wilted leeks – this crunchy veg composition tastes every bit as delicious as it looks.

Vino Nadoz, 16 The Boulevard, Richmond Heights, 314.726.0400,

Hot sauce
It pays to read about food trend predictions. “I saw the words ‘barrel-aged hot sauce’ and said, ‘I’ve got to try that,’” recalled Steven Caravelli, the corporate executive chef for Euclid Hospitality Group, which owns newly opened Mexican eatery Gringo.

The plan: First, season new, charred oak casks with blanco tequila. Then, dump the tequila (destined for the bar), pour in the ingredients for the red-hot condiment and let them take a three- to five-week siesta in the cask. Easier said than done when there’s so much you don’t know, such as what combination of ingredients makes for the best aged hot sauce. Round 1: red Fresno peppers, roasted garlic, white onions, sugar, salt and distilled white vinegar. “It tasted too sweet; like Crystal hot sauce – too much like an American-style hot sauce,” Caravelli recalled. Round 2: Omit the sugar; add chipotle peppers. Bingo.

The verdict: The Gringo house hot sauce isn’t as acidic as un-aged versions, with less of that tip-of-your-tongue tingle. “It’s a rounder flavor because of the aging,” Caravelli explained. “The heat falls in the background and lands in a nicer place instead of at the front of the tongue.”

Caravelli hopes that the sauce’s pepper, wood and tequila notes will strike the perfect chord on the signature Gringo Taco – a house-made crispy tortilla filled with ground local beef, shredded lettuce, diced tomato, jack cheese and sour cream – that’s “screaming for hot sauce.”

Gringo, 398 N. Euclid Ave., St. Louis, 314.449.1212,

Leave it to Adam Altnether, chef and co-owner of Craft Restaurant Group, to not only barrel-age milk, but to optimize the process. His project: Add whole milk to a 2-gallon new, medium-toasted Missouri oak barrel, and refrigerate it for about a week. “It’s all about taste,” Altnether said of determining when to pull the milk from its wooden home. “It’s about how intense you want it to be. If it stays in too long, it tastes astringent, like chewing on a wood chip.”

Since then, Altnether has figured out how to achieve the same results in less than half the time: Pour the milk with minced oak chips into a vacuum-sealed bag and refrigerate it. The milk takes on the oakiness in just two to three days.

Altnether used the aged dairy product to make some funked up ricotta. Packed into the silky, caramel-colored cheese are notes of oak, vanilla and smoke. The ricotta debuted in May, appearing in a dish alongside wild mushrooms and spring onions. Lately, the velvety cheese has entered into an artful composition with crunchy radishes glazed in pork fat. But the smoke-on-smoke effect is kept in check with citrus notes from rhubarb rings poached in lemon simple syrup, a touch of rhubarb purée and the lemony tang of sorrel that garnishes the dish.

“We’ve been barrel-aging cocktails for years at Taste. We’d been throwing around the idea of getting food into the barrels.” And now that he has conquered his dairy discovery? “This unlocks the door. The sky’s the limit.”

Niche, 7734 Forsyth Blvd., Clayton, 314.773.7755,