Bartender, There’s Cheese In My Drink: The how and why of fat-washing spirits

Photo by Aaron Job

Photo by Aaron Job

Fat-washing spirits.” It sounds disgusting, right? But, when a bacon bourbon old fashioned is on the menu, it sells like hotcakes.

Fat-washing is the revolting terminology for a delicious and popular technique in the cocktail world, and, despite my many emails advocating for a name change, the global bartending community has yet to change the term to “happy-savory-yum-yumization.” So fat-washing it is.

This technique flew onto the cocktail scene in 2007 thanks to famous concept-cocktailer Don Lee, then beverage director at the world-famous New York bar Please Don’t Tell. Lee put a bacon maple old fashioned on the drink menu and it quickly became the bar’s most popular cocktail. Since then, bartenders have used the technique to innovate with flavor combinations previously unavailable to the cocktail community. It has also created an opportunity to make nearly effortless food and cocktail pairings.

Put simply, fat-washing is infusing spirits with a fatty or oily substance. Alcohol can absorb both oil-soluble and water-soluble flavors, and as with any infusion, this technique alters the flavor and texture of the spirit. Bartenders use it to infuse spirits with the taste of milk, avocado, olive and coconut oil, also butter, bacon, ham—even cheese.

The texture change might seem unappetizing at first—I mean, who wants a fatty, oily, greasy cocktail? Well, maybe someone, but I would not hang out with them. When done properly, however, the texture of a fat-washed spirit is actually quite pleasing to the palate—these fats lend a decadent character to spirits, making the resulting cocktails more luscious and luxurious.

For ideal infusion, the fat should be heated and combined with the spirit of choice, shaken well, and rested at room temperature for several hours. Then the mixture is put in the freezer, where the fat rises to the top. Once the fat has solidified, the infusion is strained through a cheesecloth or a reusable Superbag. The resulting product should be a perfectly infused combination of spirit and flavor, with a beautiful texture and no lingering grease.

As with anything, the occasional fat-wash misses the mark and creates a flavor combo that would make Minnesotans exclaim, “Oh, that’s…different.” But talented bartenders all over the Twin Cities are creating fabulous, textural, balanced cocktails with this advanced technique. Go see Katy Dimick and her team at Hola Arepa for a coconut oil-washed rum cocktail called Locked Up Abroad. Trish Gavin has Sweater Weather—a brown butter-washed Scotch old fashioned—at The Landing in Wayzata. And Whitney Evans at Icehouse offers two milk-washed concoctions sure to please.

Try out these amazing infusions and comment below with your suggestion of better branding for this horribly named technique.

Be My Cheddar Pie

A "Be My Cheddar Pie" cocktail // Photo by Aaron Job

A “Be My Cheddar Pie” cocktail // Photo by Aaron Job

In honor of the cider issue this month and the odd Minnesotan tradition of putting cheese on apple pie, this month’s cocktail recreates those flavors in liquid form:

Ingredients

1¼ ounces Tillamook yellow cheddar-washed white rum (Flor de Caña, recommended)
½ ounce lemon juice
¾ ounce vanilla cinnamon syrup
3 ounces dry hard cider

Method

Make the cheddar-washed rum: Melt 60 grams of shredded cheddar and steep on 750 milliliters of white rum for five hours at room temperature, shaking the mixture well a few times. Freeze the mixture until fat solidifies, then strain through a cheesecloth and discard the cheese.

Combine cheddar-washed rum, lemon, and syrup in a shaking tin with ice, and shake briefly. Strain into footed Pilsner glass. Add cider, then top with pebble ice and garnish with a bruleed apple ring.