Kindred Spirits: Fat-Washed Cocktails
Barley Swine, The Roosevelt Room and Watertrade are serving drinks with complex flavors and textures this winter
by Laurel Miller
I have a hunch that Addie Hauber is a fan of “Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory.” I’m sipping her fat-washed Can I Chick It (Yes you can) cocktail, which she describes as a, “Texas ingredient-focused drink that emulates a great plate of barbecue, with meaty, sweet and tangy components.” I immediately envision the film’s iconic scene in which a cud-chewing Violet Beauregarde turns into a blueberry, after trying Wonka’s experimental “Three-Course Dinner Gum.”
Unlike that gum, Hauber, Barley Swine’s fantastically talented bar manager, has perfected her recipe. Can I Chick It is made with fried chicken-washed Olmeca Altos Tequila Reposado, allspice butter, Texas apple oleo saccharum (sugar infused with fruit to express its natural oils) and Funkwerks Raspberry Provincial shrub. It’s damned good, with a clean, silky texture and appealing lactic quality, akin to an alcoholic kefir. Shaken and served up in a coupe, it’s garnished with a piece of brined, spiced fried chicken skin that tastes exactly like a barbecued potato chip.
Fat-washed cocktails have been around a minute but the technique is considerably older, derived from the 19th century practice of enfleurage, a French perfumer’s technique that involves coating a plate of glass with animal fat to which flowers or other botanicals are added. The fragrance diffuses into the fat, resulting in a scented product known as a pomade.
Fat-washing cocktails imparts flavor to infused spirits as well as soft, velvety texture minus the oily, greasy mouthfeel. This is achieved by chilling – and thus solidifying – the fat, heating and infusing it with the spirit of choice, and shaking to emulsify the components. The mixture is then frozen to separate the fat cap and the spirit strained to filter any residue.
Spirits are infused with all manner of animal fats and plant oils, but pork remains the most common iteration. “Most places use bacon,” says Hauber, “but I feel chicken is underutilized in fat-washing. I also love pechugas (a type of mezcal made by suspending raw chicken breast, game or other meat above the still, yielding a spirit with a savory, viscous quality) and thought this would be a sustainable technique that works well with our bar program, which is a collaboration with the kitchen. We always have spice-rubbed Cobb Creek Farm pastured birds on the menu.”
If you’re eager to experiment with other fat-washed cocktails about town, the Goma Fashioned at the South Congress Hotel’s Watertrade is a seductive, enigmatic riff on the classic cocktail. Made with sesame oil-washed Old Overholt Rye, toasted sesame seeds and Giffard Vanille de Madagascar anointed with an oversized sphere of translucent ice, it’s a subtle, distinctive take on fat washing courtesy of Whitney Hazelmyer, who co-manages the moody omakase-style bar inside of Otoko restaurant. “I’m rarely interested in using ingredients I’ve seen before,” she says. “Sesame oil lends a complexity to my favorite cocktail but it’s complementary, not overly convoluted.”
The Roosevelt Room has a reputation for well-executed if labor-intensive cocktails, and their fat-washed house libations are no exception. Far From the Tree (almond butter-washed Monkey Shoulder Scotch, Smith & Cross Jamaican Rum, Lustau Amontillado Sherry, apple-toasted oat syrup, Abbot’s bitters, salt tincture, dehydrated apple, grated nutmeg, served up) has nuanced, layers of warmth – just the thing for chilly winter nights.
For something celebratory, forget the Champagne and order the Silver Meadows, made with Tequila Ocho Plata, Kappa Pisco, Junmai Sake, duck foie gras-washed St-Germain, clarified lime and grapefruit, maguey sap, sweetgrass tincture and grapefruit oil. Serve up in a Nick and Nora glass, this crystalline cocktail has a satiny texture with clean floral and sake notes and umami finish from the foie gras.
Whether you’re indulging in Texas barbecue, fried chicken or foie gras, consuming a little extra fat is unavoidable this time of year. My advice is to drink it.