The Rye Bar’s Barrel-Aged Manhattan Returns

But is it worth the $22 price tag?

The Rye Bar aged Manhattan takes a dip in the pool atop the Capella Hotel (left). Staff brought the barrel up to the bar after it had aged six week in the basement. Photographs by Carol Ross Joynt.

Eight days after the Rye Bar opened in Georgetown’s luxe new Capella Hotel, it sold out of its barrel-aged Manhattan. That was likely due in part to the cocktail’s star turn in the press—the $22 price tag transfixed local food journalists, this one included.

Why so spendy? Capella’s Will Rentschler, the drink’s creator, says the Capella team figured that’s what it would cost to turn a profit on the mixture of Pennsylvania-based Dad’s Hat rye whiskey, Dolin sweet vermouth, and Byrrh quinquina—a French aperitif—aged in a 15-gallon American oak barrel. Rentschler cites the high-end ingredients and the six-week aging period as factors that push up the price. Poured from a glass decanter behind the bar, each three-ounce portion gets a hit of house-made orange bitters and an orange peel garnish. Rentschler forgoes the traditional cherry garnish since he says the drink gets plenty of cherry flavor from the wine-based Byrrh.

Bartender T.J. Ahmed and cocktail creator Will Rentschler mix up the Manhattans.
The decanting process.

On my first visit to the Capella, the Rye Bar was out of the
$22 Manhattan, so, to get a sense of it, I tried the same combination
unaged. I found the Byrrh to be overpowering—it’s a great ingredient,
with a pleasant, mild bitterness, when used in moderation, but the
cocktail had too much. Also, the drink was frothy from a
jolt through the cocktail shaker, and a shaken Manhattan always seems
like such a shame.

But the barreled version, now available until the current 30-gallon
stock runs dry, is delicious. The aging takes the edge off the mixture,
so there’s no bracing heat and you experience the flavors almost like
you do with a good wine—they’re all there, but they feel more cohesive
somehow. Barrel-aged concoctions are notoriously easy to drink; it’s
important to remember you’re consuming a high-octane cocktail and not a
Syrah or something. While three ounces may seem small to mega-martini
drinkers who are used to the generous pours at Off the Record and
Vidalia Lounge, it might also serve as a safety precaution—though the
danger to your bank balance is another matter entirely.

So is it
worth $22? Sipped slowly in the tony surroundings of the Rye Bar, maybe.
But here’s a thought: Capella has been playing around with opening its
rooftop patio—complete with spectacular infinity pool—to the public. The
space is currently accessible to guests alone. If that changes, and you
find yourself in the position to order an aged Manhattan on the Capella
roof as the sun sets over the Potomac on a summer day, $22 will likely
seem a bargain.