The Old Barrel cocktail is today’s Drink of the Day. That’s not because we have an important date in the history of using barrels to age spirits or store pickles. Or, for that matter, filling them with monkeys as a measurement of fun. Rather, it’s the anniversary of Anna Taylor becoming the first person to go over Niagara Falls in a barrel.
Anna Taylor was born in 1838 in upstate New York and became a schoolteacher. She got married while completing her studies and had a son, but the child died as an infant and her husband followed shortly. As a widow she spent her working years across a variety of locales and jobs, and ended up in Michigan after bouncing around as far as Mexico City in pursuit of work.
Riding Over Niagara Falls
She decided that fame and fortune from being the first person to ride over Niagara Falls in a barrel would be a good way to secure her financial security. Not exactly moonshot stuff, but it did pique the curiosity of the press and public. The only three people known to have gone over the falls before her did so by accident. They didn’t live to tell about it.
Sshe had a custom oak barrel constructed and padded the interior with a mattress. Two days before her planned ride she sent a cat over the falls in her barrel as a test run. The cat was not interviewed, but survived and certainly used up a few of those nine lives.
On October 24, 1901, her 63rd birthday, the barrel was put in the water. She climbed in with her lucky pillow, and friends used a bicycle pump to compress the air inside. The barrel was set adrift near the American shore. Lucky for her the currents carried it over the Canadian Horseshoe Falls. (All successful attempts to take a trip over the falls have been on that side.) Rescuers reached her barrel shortly after the plunge and found Taylor alive with only a small gash on her head.
The stunt didn’t quite achieve her goals. She briefly earned some money by speaking about the experience but never built wealth. Then her manager ran away with the barrel and she used most of her savings hiring private detectives to find it. She ended up in poverty.
Several others, of course, have also taken daredevil rides over the falls. The fatality rate is about 25%, so it has never panned out as a wise career choice. Most guidance counselors discourage it, and if not a new guidance counselor would be advised.
The Old Barrel Cocktail
So onward to the Drink of the Day. While barrel aged cocktails have become all the rage in recent years the Old Barrel cocktail is something you mix up on the spot. Its origin is unclear, but you might look at it as a variation on an Old Fashioned in which the classic whiskey, sugar and bitters are augmented by a bit of Benedictine and dry Sherry. Perhaps if one squints the right way a resemblance to the Vieux Carre can be seen.
It’s a bit spicy from the rye whiskey, gets sweetened by Benedictine and is balanced out by the dry Sherry. A couple of dashes of Angostura Bitters finishes the job.
Old Barrel Cocktail
- Old Fashioned Glass
- 2 oz Rye whiskey
- ½ oz Benedictine
- ½ oz Sherry It's important to use a dry rather than sweet Sherry here. Ideally Amontillado, but Fino or other day Sherry will work well without shame.
- 2 dash Angostura bitters
- Garnish: lemon twist
- Add rye whiskey, sherry, Benedictine and Angostura bitters to your trusty mixing glass.
- Add ice and stir to chill.
- Strain into Old Fashioned glass over ice, ideally one large cube.
- Garnish with lemon twist.
- Reconsider your plans to go over Niagara Falls.
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