Bartenders today are exploring techniques beyond bacon-washed bourbon.
The appeal of the fat washed cocktail has always been the ability to add a surprising, but somehow logical, element that otherwise would seem out of place. Something savory. Something familiar but rarely in liquid form.
Case in point: Don Lee’s Benton’s Old Fashioned from PDT. Many contemporary bartenders mention this cocktail by name as their first introduction to the concept of fat washing. This iconic drink was conceived as breakfast in a glass, with flavors that were not traditionally found in a beverage: bacon, maple syrup, and the orange zest to remind you of orange juice at breakfast. Anchoring all those ingredients was the bacon fat washed bourbon at the center of the drink. A flavor so commonplace, yet in such an unexpected place.
We’ve come a long way from Don Lee’s 2007 drink and today, bartenders are painting with a whole new set of colors. They are pushing the sensory envelope of what other memories can be triggered by their innovative flavor combinations: graham cracker bourbons, sesame seed mezcals, olive oil cognac, or peanut butter gin.
At the Walker Inn in Los Angeles, bar manager Katie Emmerson was tinkering with an idea from childhood.
“When we were developing our Wet Hot American Summer Menu, the first thought was: ‘What is summertime and summer camp to us?’ Obviously there’s campfires and s’mores. So, then, how do we get a s’more into a cocktail? So we think through all these different techniques and ingredients that we have and then we think through every aspect of the s’more. How do we get graham cracker into a cocktail? And that led us to the fat washed bourbon in The Campfire cocktail.”
So, how do you get that graham cracker flavor into the bourbon? In other words, how exactly does fat washing work? Simply put, says Emmerson, “It’s an infusion that uses something that has fat in it. You’re utilizing the fat soluble compounds that dissolve in ethanol to extract flavor from the fat. In the campfire cocktail, we use graham crackers, which have a lot of butter in them, and anything that has butter, has fat. So you get all of this amazing graham cracker flavor from all those fat soluble compounds, but without any of the sugary buttery honey sweetness in the bourbon.
This is great when you’re making something like an old-fashioned variation, like The Campfire because you don’t want a ton of that texture (a little comes through) but you’re left with a little bit of substance to your cocktail. We blend the graham crackers and the bourbon together and put it through the centrifuge to expedite the process. You could clarify further by putting it in the freezer, but we tried that and found that we actually liked this better because over-straining the mixture took out too much of the texture.”
As Emmerson emphasizes, it’s important to taste as you go, because sometimes leaving some of the solids contributes to the texture of the drink. However, not everyone has access to a centrifuge like at the Walker Inn. As far as process, Dan Sabo, Beverage Director at the Ace Hotel in Los Angeles (and also one of the Chilled 100) gives us an idea of the time and effort involved in obtaining that clear finished product that is laced with just a bit of fat.
“Our methodology is to take a spirit and a fatty solid,” explains Sabo “and blend them together in a Vitamix. Then we let that infuse for 24 hours. At that point, we place the mixture in the fridge and allow it to settle for about 12 hours. Once it separates, we place the mixture in the freezer to allow the solids to freeze into essentially a disk at the bottom of the container. Once frozen, we start the straining process, which starts with cheesecloth, then superbags, and so on as it gets progressively finer until we’re straining the mixture through triple stacked coffee filters and it’s clarified. The most important thing is to allow it time to settle. The more mixed up it is, the more straining you’ll have to do. Let time and gravity do most of the work. With straining as well, pour small amounts through the filters, and regularly clean them of build up so the liquid will strain through.”
It’s a lot of work but one would be hard pressed to achieve the same results any other way. Observes Sabo,
“The roundness that comes from a fat wash is really unique, and it doesn’t come with an accompanying sweetness that you get from using a gomme syrup. The aromatics are great, because when using something like bacon or peanut butter, those smells are so distinct and not normally associated with drinks. So right off the bat you have an opportunity to add a new element to a cocktail.”
That opportunity revealed itself to Sabo in an unexpected place. He found that Thai cuisine and their Tom Kah soup had a lot in common with Bombay Sapphire gin. “The overlap of the use of aromatics in both the food and the gin,” notes Sabo, “along with a lot of shared ingredients and shared history, made the connection for me. Then it was a matter of finding a way to incorporate peanuts into the mix. I tried initially with crushed peanuts, but the use of peanut butter in the recipes for the soup made me give that a try. The results were night and day. The fat and sugar content of the peanut butter gave such a specific smell, different from the vague peanut smells that came from using raw nuts. So, we washed it with peanut butter instead and the result was exactly what I was going for.”
Courtesy of Dan Sabo, Beverage Manager, Ace Hotel Downtown LA
Winner, People’s Choice at Bombay Sapphire Most Imaginative Bartender 2015
- 2 oz. Peanut Butter Washed Bombay Sapphire Gin
- 3/4 oz. Snap Pea-Galangal Syrup
- 1/2 oz. Fresh Lime Juice
- 1/2 oz. Maldon Salted Coconut Cream
Garnish: 3 Drops Chile Oil, Crushed Mustard & Coriander Seed, 1 Cilantro Leaf
Preparation: Add all ingredients to a mixing tin, add ice and shake vigorously. Double strain into a cocktail glass (we served it in an Acacia bowl). Garnish and serve.
Peanut Butter Washed Bombay Sapphire Gin
- 1 Liter Bombay Sapphire Gin
- 250 ml Smooth Peanut Butter
Preparation: Combine ingredients in a blender and blend until fully incorporated. Pour into a non-reactive container, refrigerate and allow to sit for 24 hours. After a day, pour through cheese cloth to remove large solids. Continue to increase layers of cheese cloth and strain. Once fairly clear, place back in fridge for another 24 hours. Allow sediment to settle, then place in freezer for 6 hours. Once sediment is solid at bottom, pour liquid through a double coffee filter until completely clear.
Be sure to always use new cloth or filters with each filtration.
Snap Pea- Galangal Syrup
- 8 oz. Snap Peas (Cleaned and Trimmed)
- 8 oz. Galangal (Young Ginger, Rough Chopped)
- 8 oz. Filtered Water (Hot, but Sub Boiling)
- 8 oz. Demerara Sugar
Preparation: Combine all ingredients in a blender and blend until fairly smooth. Run through a fine mesh strainer to pull out any solids.
Sabo finds that having this arrow in his quiver allows for more innovation in drinks.
“We’re always trying to find new ways to present ingredients in cocktails,” explains Sabo, “and fat washing is a great technique to add a savory quality to a drink without being overbearing. It also opens a lot of doors to use ingredients we’d be hard pressed to incorporate otherwise.”
Yael Vengroff, Bar Director at the Spare Room in Hollywood, agrees, noting,
“the process allows for thicker, more unique flavors to make themselves present in places as unlikely as a cocktail. It serves to enhance flavor pairings and profiles and ultimately make a richer experience overall.”
Her latest obsession is coconut oil, of which she says, “I am just loving all the fun and unique combinations I have been able to come up with such a neutral, yet interesting fat. Try it with more obvious choices like rum, or, for a more unique choice, try scotch.”
For her cocktail at the Spare Room, Vengroff used fat washing to create a lighter take on the tiki drinks that she used to sling. “I used to work at a tiki bar years ago,” she recalls, “and discovered the brilliant combination of passion fruit and Campari. Not wanting to disrupt this balance, I chose vodka to match these flavors because of its neutral backbone. I use Aylesbury Duck Vodka because it already had the velvety mouthfeel I was looking for, and I fat wash it with coconut oil to add a bit of richness and sweetness. Then I combine the spirit with passion fruit, Campari, Velvet Falernum, honey, and just a dash of lemon for balance. It’s a super high acid, dry cocktail for a vodka drinker; people love it.”
Courtesy of Yael Vengroff , Bar Director, The Spare Room
- 1 1/2 oz. Coconut Oil-Infused Aylesbury Duck Vodka*
- 3/4 oz. Campari
- 3/4 oz. The Perfect Purée Passionfruit
- 1/4 oz. Velvet Falernum
- 1/4 oz. Acacia Honey Syrup
- 1/4 oz. Lemon Juice
Preparation: Combine all ingredients in a shaker tin. Shake. Strain into a coupe. Garnish with an orchid.
*Coconut Oil-Washed Vodka
- 1 L Aylesbury Duck Vodka
- 16 oz . (by Volume) Coconut Oil
Preparation: Combine 1 Liter of vodka to 16 oz. (by volume) of liquefied coconut oil (heat in warm water bath to achieve this, if necessary) in a cambro and stir. Let sit at room temperature for at least 24 hours then place in freezer until all oils have solidified. Strain once with a chinois, discard solids and refreeze the vodka infusion. Then strain once more through a cheesecloth. Store in 750 ml Bottles.