Episode 071 - Fat Washed Cocktails

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What’s shakin, cocktail fans?

Welcome back to another episode of the Modern Bar Cart Podcast!

This is one of our Bar Cart Foundations episodes, where we take a deep dive into a special topic in mixology that will help you really take your home bartending game to the next level, and hopefully have a bit of fun in the process.

This time around, we’re covering a fun DIY project called “fat washing,” which is something you can do to add a fun twist to a spirit. Below, we give you step-by-step instructions, as well as a full breakdown of the science behind fat washed spirits.

Announcing The Essential Tasting Journal

We are thrilled to announce the launch of The Essential Tasting Journal for Spirits & Cocktails, which is a tool designed to do two things amazingly well - help you improve your tasting skills and provide a structured, central repository for all your spirits and cocktail notes.

In the next few days, we’ll be officially launching a kickstarter campaign where you can preorder the product, but you can get an awesome sneak preview over at CocktailTastingJournal.com

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Over on the Kickstarter page, we’ll have a full video rundown of all the features included in this tasting journal, but the highlights include:

  • Over 30 pages of educational material to help you understand the anatomy of flavor and learn how to conduct a proper tasting.

  • A custom flavor wheel designed to take you from a generic tasting note to a precise one, building your flavor lexicon as you go.

  • A log-book-style approach to note taking, which saves you time while allowing you to record more and better-structured information than a blank page.

  • A fillable glossary that makes for quick and easy referencing in the future.

Here’s the important part, though: for the normal, non-sale price of the journal - a base pre-order donation of just $20 bucks - we’ll send you a personally signed and inscribed copy of The Essential Tasting Journal for Spirits & Cocktails, and if you’re getting this as a gift, we’re happy to customize the inscription for you.

Greater contributions unlock other cool gifts and incentives, which you can review over on the Kickstarter page, but the bottom line is this - we’re giving podcast listeners and kickstarter fans the opportunity to get a signed, first edition copy for no extra charge, which is a pretty sweet deal.

Stay tuned for more updates as we launch the kickstarter and roll out this excellent product.

Featured Cocktail: The Martinez

This week’s featured cocktail is a classic drink called The Martinez.

The reason we selected the Martinez for this episode is because it’s a classic cocktail that’s robust enough - smooth and sweet enough without going overboard - to handle a riff using a fat washed spirit. In other words, it’s a fertile opportunity for fat washing.

To make the Martinez, you’ll need:

  • 1.5 oz Old Tom Gin, which is a barrel-aged style.

  • 1.5 oz Sweet Vermouth

  • 1 Bar Spoon Maraschino Liqueur

  • Several Dashes Aromatic Bitters - we like to use our Embitterment Aromatic Bitters.

This is a stirred cocktail - so you combine all these ingredients in mixing glass with ice, stir well, and then strain into a coupe or other stemmed cocktail glass and garnish with an orange twist.

Old Tom gin isn’t something everyone has just kicking around their liquor cabinet, nor is it something that every little corner liquor store is going to carry, so definitely go about sourcing this ingredient with care. It’s a very exciting category that has recently been getting a lot more attention, and for more thoughts on that, you can check out my interview with David T. Smith, author of The Gin Dictionary in Episode 60.

Fat Washing Defined

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The first question we have to answer here is obviously: what is fat washing, and why might you want to do something like this to a perfectly good spirit?

Whenever I have to understand or explain something technical like this, the first thing I do is grab my copy of Dave Arnold’s Liquid Intelligence, which is absolutely the definitive text when it comes to tinkering and modifying your spirits or cocktails and understanding the tools and chemical forces you need to manipulate to execute these culinary moves correctly.

I absolutely recommend picking up a copy of this book if you’re starting to play with more advanced cocktail techniques, but here’s what Dave has to say on the subject of “washing”:

The concept of washing liquids take a little getting used to. You wash clothes to remove dirt; you wash ingredients to remove flavors. You can use washing in your cocktail ventures in two different ways. You can booze-wash […] by adding a “detergent” —usually milk, gelatin, hydrocolloids, or eggs—to bind with unwanted compounds in the liquor so that you can remove them. You can also fat-wash to wring good flavors out of a fat and into a liquor, and then use that liquor to make something delicious. In the first example, you’re washing a liquor, in the second you’re washing a fat.

There’s two things I want to point out about this quote.

First, it explains that fat washing is just the tip of the iceberg. There’s also egg washing, milk washing, and several other very technical types of “Booze washes.”

The second, and very crucial, point here is that fat washing takes flavor OUT of fat and deposits it INTO booze, while pretty much all these other practices are nuanced ways of surgically removing certain undesirable flavor components from spirits.

The example that Dave Arnold uses to exemplify this is how he was once tasked with making a boozy take on the Arnold Palmer, but the tannins in black tea made his creations a bit unpalatable. So, he used a spirit washing technique to target that undesirable characteristic and remove it, while retaining all the positive attributes of the drink.

So, while fat washing isn’t technically a misnomer, it’s definitely a process that involves putting something INTO a spirit, rather than taking something out. If there’s one thing you take away from this episode, it should be that.

Why Fat Wash a Spirit?

Returning to the question of why someone might want to infuse or impart some fatty flavor into a spirit - well, there are a couple possible answers.

One might be that you have a specific cocktail in mind where you’re looking to add some savory notes, but you’re not a huge fan of actively using something like dairy, or egg, or fat in the cocktail itself.

Another might be that you’ve got your hands on a rougher, bottom shelf spirits and you’d like to dress it up in a costume. I’m personally always in favor of having a whole range of spirit qualities at your disposal - and the opportunity to fat wash your bottom shelf bourbon on a whim is definitely a part of that. Maybe you wouldn’t do it with that nice bonded, single barrel bottle that your brother got you for your birthday, but if it comes in a handle, there’s no need to hesitate.

Now, let’s move on to discuss the tools and ingredients you’ll need if you want to try a fat washing experiment.

  • A Spirit - It should be something slightly uninspiring that you’re not afraid to potentially ruin. And you should have at least one use-case in mind for cocktail making when you’ve got the finished product. That way you’ve got time to run to the store if you need other ingredients.

  • Good Quality Fat - As Dave Arnold points out in his book, not all fats are created equal. Butter that’s been sitting out in your fridge isn’t as good as fresh butter, and scorched, burned bacon fat isn’t nearly as good as properly rendered bacon fat. Similarly, light olive oil from Costco probably isn’t as good as that stuff you can get from the specialty store.

  • A Wide-Mouth Container - For a traditional fat washing using fat that will solidify when exposed to cold temperatures, you’ll just need a clean wide-mouth glass container that will fit your spirit and the amount of fat you intend to add to it.

  • A Straining Device - A coffee filter is necessary, and something rougher like a cheese cloth is also a plus.

Bacon Washed Bourbon: A Case Study

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The bottle I selected was a fine $13 bottle of Ancient Age Bourbon, which is absolutely fine on its own, but really is nothing special. Totally a fat washable bottle.

For my fat, I grabbed a pound of nice, thick-cut hickory smoked bacon, and I cooked that up in a pan, being extremely careful to avoid burning said bacon.

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When I was done, I measured how much rendered bacon fat I had, and it came out to 90ml, which is in the neighborhood of 3 oz. This included some particulate matter, and that’s totally fine. Some of the flavor you’re trying to infuse from bacon comes from those tasty bits, which will all be filtered out in the end.

I took a nice 2 liter, wide-mouth mason jar, poured in the bourbon, added the bacon fat, and gave it a good shake. After leaving it on the counter for an hour and agitating the mixture a couple times, I moved it to the fridge overnight. Some people recommend moving your fat-washed solution to the freezer, but only see this as necessary if you’re in a hurry or if you’ve got a fat that takes a little coaxing to solidify.

When you return to your jar, you should see a puck of fat covering the top of the liquid. If you don’t see this after a significant period of time, you should consult an expert or discard your project. But I’ve literally never had any problems with this.

The next step is to remove the puck from the jar using a spoon or something like that, then pouring the liquid through a coffee filter. The cone coffee filters I attempted to use in the video were a bit of a fail due to their limited size and shape, so I had to strain through cheesecloth a few times. Worked like a charm.

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The result is a spirit that’s got a bit of haziness from the proteins and flavor compounds you’ve washed out of the fat, but there shouldn’t be any chunks floating around. If this is the case, you haven’t strained thoroughly enough.

Once your liquid is strained, you should be fine to return it to its original container.

Selecting Your Fat

Bacon is a great place to start your fat washing adventures. But it’s not the only thing you can use to infuse flavor into your spirits. In this section, we identify some of the best go-to options for fat washing spirits and try to give you some pairing recommendations as well.

Animal Fats

  • Bacon Fat - Bacon is an obvious one here. Especially because most of the time bacon fat just ends up getting thrown out. So it’s a win-win. I’d classify bacon as one of the stronger-tasting fats, and it should almost always be paired with something aged - a whiskey, a brandy, or in certain cases maybe a rum. The goal here is to complement those lovely vanilla and spice notes that the barrel imparts to the aged spirits.

    But keep in mind that bacon isn’t your only animal-driven option. You can also use rendered fat from pretty much any tasty animal - like pork fat, duck fat, really any fat you can think of.

  • Butter - Staying in the animal category, we’ve got butter. There are all kinds of butters out there, each with a more or less robust flavor profile, so the brand or style you choose is going to have a big impact on the final outcome. Perhaps more-so than with bacon. I’d recommend pairing butter with something light, like a heavily wheated bourbon or a vodka.

    The use case you have in mind here is also going to be important, so before you do a butter wash, think about your concept first. That’s going to help guide your ideal spirit pairing. Your other option is to simply use the butter as a canvas for another flavor, like creating a pecan brown butter or infusing it with clove, nutmeg, vanilla, or any other number of warm spices.

Plant Fats

  • Coconut Oil - This is an appealing choice for pretty much anything to which you’d like to add that quintessential tropical note. One detail I’ll mention is that you’ll want to make sure your coconut oil is warm enough to be in its liquid state when you add it to your spirit because below 76 degrees or so, it remains solid. However, it should solidify nicely in the fridge once you’re at that step.

  • Olive Oil - This common fat washing ingredient poses a problem - separating it from your spirit is tricky. Dave Arnold recommends using something called a separatory funnel, which allows liquids of different weights to separate effectively due to its steep conical shape.

    If you want to go this route, I’d recommend getting one with a 1000 ml (or 1 L) capacity, which is gonna run you about $40-$60 on Amazon. Great if you’re a bar manager who wants to start scaling this at your establishment, maybe not so great if you’re just a home enthusiast looking for a quick, cost-effective project.

  • Peanut Oil/Butter - This ingredient also comes with a fatal flaw. Namely that it’s hard to separate from your spirit without a centrifuge. It’s doable, if you follow the normal fat washing procedure and then pass it through several increasingly fine meshes and filters, but the result is a pretty significant loss rate on your spirit.

    One possible solution to this would be to go to one of those natural food stores that actually allows you to grind your own peanut butter, and then use the peanut oil that collects on the top of that fresh-ground peanut butter as your fat washing element. The flavor might not be as robust, but for certain cocktails, just that hint of peanut might be all you need.


Fat Washed Cocktail Ideas

Now that you’re well-versed in the process and the ingredients, there’s really nothing that should stop you from tackling your very own fat washing project at home. But, in case you’re still at a loss for some good use cases, here’s a couple noteworthy ones that stuck out to me:

I once collaborated with a bartender at a DC thai restaurant called Maketto to design a riff on a classic Manhattan using Coconut Oil washed Carpano Antica vermouth. This was wildly effective, especially when accented by our orange bitters, and people went bananas over it.

One quick note here is that washing a vermouth, rather than a spirit, might require a bit more subtlety, and I’d certainly recommend trying to add the coconut oil to the vermouth at around 78 degrees, shaking well, and refrigerating immediately. This will help retain the original character of the vermouth and prevent it from oxidizing or cooking too much when it comes in contact with the fat.

Next up, I need to mention the Peanut Butter and Jelly cocktail in Liquid Intelligence. This, admittedly, isn’t my thing. I think it sounds a bit over the top, but maybe if you get a really great peanut butter and a really lovely jelly, it could work. The ingredients are simply peanut butter, jelly, vodka, a pinch of salt, and a half ounce of lime juice, but because I’ve been pirating so significantly from Dave’s book this episode, I’m gonna leave the procedure a secret to encourage you to pick up a copy of his James Beard Foundation Award-Winning book, Liquid Intelligence.

For olive oil, Martinis work really well. You’re almost definitely going to want to use a clear spirit here, so in your end product, the decisions that are really going to make the cocktail shine are which vermouth and bitters you choose, and how you garnish the drink. If you’re really mindful about these decisions, you’ll have a subtle drink that really honors the olive oil.

Finally, I really wanted to give you a really professional example of a butter washed cocktail, because I consider those use cases to be the most challenging to develop.

Priscilla Young of Travelle Kitchen + Bar in Chicago came up with the Corn, Bread and Butter, which contains butter washed white whiskey, cranberry, and orange marmalade. What I like about this cocktail is that it doesn’t cop out by infusing the butter with some spice. It locates a spirit that could use some enriching (White whiskey), then finds a complementary flavor duo in cranberry and orange to create a perfect fall cocktail.