CREDIT: FLICKR – STEPHANIE KRAUS
Fancy a bacon bourbon? A butter gin? Cheese toastie rum? Or how about a Cadbury creme egg vodka?
All these unusual spirit flavourings are examples of fat-washing, a trend brewed up in New York cocktail bar Please Don’t Tell (PDT), run by renowned mixologist Don Lee. In 2007, Lee added the Benton’s Old-Fashioned to PDT’s menu, a cocktail created with bacon fat-washed bourbon, bringing together two of America’s most beloved flavours.
The technique soon caught on across the American cocktail bar scene. But according to Seb Heeley, master distiller and co-founder of Manchester Gin, we’ll soon be seeing more of it in the UK.
“It does sound disgusting,” he concedes. “Nonetheless we think it’s going to be big this year because it’s a great way to impart flavour without affecting the drink or the quantity too much.”
So how does the process work? In short, fat-washing uses fatty substances to add a different flavour and texture to classic spirits, not entirely dissimilar from standard infusion. In general, fat-washing tends to make spirits a bit smoother and creamier, making cheaper spirits more drinkable.
The other great thing about fat-washing is that it requires no specialist equipment and anyone can do it at home ingredients they’ll already have in their cupboards.
How to try fat-washing at home
- 700ml spirit (gin, vodka, whisky etc – must be above 38%ABV)
- 120g fat*
- Melt the fat in a pan. As soon as it has all melted, take it off the heat. It needs to be liquid but not starting to caramelise.
- Pour the melted fat into a mason jar with the alcohol, then seal the lid and shake hard.
- Allow to sit for room temperature for 4-5 hours, shaking occasionally if it starts to separate.
- Put in the freezer overnight. The alcohol content in the spirit will stop it from freezing but the fat will separate on top.
- Puncture the fat layer and drain the spirit out into a new container. Use a coffee filter to strain out the spirit again to remove any further impurities. Keep straining until the spirit is clear.
Use your fat-washed spirit in a short cocktail like a martini or an old-fashioned, as a lot of mixer will dilute the flavour.
*The ratio of spirit to fat will vary depending on what spirit and what fat you’re using. A stronger tasting fat like bacon or chorizo might need a little less, while a lighter fat like butter or olive oil will probably need more, so it’s best to experiment with smaller quantities to see what works.
I used 10ml of chorizo fat with 100ml of vodka which gave a solid, smoky chorizo taste, but I needed to use about 200ml of olive oil in a 700ml bottle of gin to get a punchy flavour.
Why is fat-washing going to be a trend in 2019?
While all this sounds like it flies in the face of the recent trend for ‘healthy’ cocktails, Heeley reassures those watching their waistline that no fat ends up in the washed spirit. “All you’re doing is attaching the flavour enzymes. It’s a bit like when you distill botanicals in gin, you just take the flavour, not the protein.”
Heeley says he’s had great results using the process to add a coconut milk flavour to Manchester Gin’s Wild Spirit. Wild Spirit and olive oil also works well in a dirty martini, he explains. “Dirty martini is obviously gin, vermouth, and brine from the three olives you put in there. If you’re using olive oil you get an extra punch of olive in there already.”
But those are just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to fat-washing. Some quick online research throws up all manner of outlandish combinations such as a mint-infused butter bourbon, a Camembert gin, or Heeley’s personal favourite Cadbury creme egg vodka (“vodka and Cadbury’s Creme Egg – melt a creme egg then mix it with a bit of vegetable oil because it’s not fatty enough on its own”.)
With the UK drinks market embracing personalisation and unique experiences, Heeley thinks fat-washing fits into the zeitgeist perfectly. “If you did a bit of prep the day before having people over, you can present them with something they will have never, ever had before. And I think that’s what people will be looking for; that Instagrammable, never-before-seen drinking experience.
“If your boyfriend or girlfriend is obsessed with duck, for instance, you could go and make them a rye whisky and duck fat-wash, and make a smoky old-fashioned.”