What Does It Mean to Fat Wash a Spirit? - Rum Raiders
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What Is Fat Washing? The Hottest Trend in Mixology

fat wash fat washing spirits

(Photo: Monserrat Soldú/Pexels)

Fat washing is the process of infusing fat into a spirit to change a drink’s flavor and texture or mouthfeel. The technique to fat wash a spirit can use a variety of fats including animal fat, plant oils and butter. The true origins of fat washing are not known but it is one of the techniques used by modern mixologists which embodies the shift towards more culinary cocktails. You may have seen fat washing frequently used in the Netflix show Drink Masters to add complexity to the competitors’ cocktails. People often give credit for the popularization of this technique to Don Lee.

The History

Lee created a bacon-infused old-fashioned called the Benton’s Old-Fashioned while working at Please Don’t Tell (PDT) around 2008. This cocktail combines bourbon and bacon fat to create a unique cocktail experience.

Lee has said he credits his knowledge of fat-washing to Eben Freeman. Freeman, also well-known in the New York bar scene, would make a brown-butter-washed rum at WD-50. He was also inspired by LeNell Smothers and her store LeNell’s in Red Hook, New York. This store became a destination for the spirit obsessed. 

WD-50 was one of the pioneering restaurants for molecular gastronomy and was opened by world-renowned chef Wylie Dufresne. Freeman has said he was inspired by Sam Mason, the then pastry chef at WD-50. In turn, Mason was inspired by the techniques of perfumers. 

The Process

Fat washing is a type of infusion. Alcohol is great at dissolving both oil-soluble and water-soluble flavors whether it’s fresh fruits and vegetables or animal fats like bacon. The purpose of fat washing is to extract the flavors of the fat without overwhelming the drink with the fat itself. 

A common combination of fat and spirit can be seen in rum fat-washed with butter. It is normally used in riffs of the classic cocktail, hot buttered rum. A hot buttered rum is elevated by fat-washing the rum with butter rather than just adding butter to the warm cocktail. 

The basic process begins with selecting a spirit such as rum and then a fat like butter. For saturated fats or fats that will solidify at room temperature, it is helpful to first heat the fat before combining it with the spirit. 

The Liquid Intelligence book by Dave Arnold recommends 4 oz of fat per 750ml for strong-tasting fats such as smoked bacon fat and 8 oz of fat for less strong flavored fats such as butter and olive oil. Depending on the desired flavor and texture outcome, some experimentation with ratios may be required. The length of infusing depends on the desired intensity of flavor. This can range from a few hours to a week. 

After the infusion phase, the mix with the spirit and fat is chilled. The cold temperature helps to solidify the fat so the mixture can be more easily strained. Coffee filters are an effective way to remove most of the fat solids. The result is a rum with an increased depth of flavor and a silkier mouthfeel. 

Read Next:

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Jessica Gleman is the managing editor of Rum Raiders. She received her Ph.D. at the University College of Dublin in Ireland, where she studied the archaeology of ancient alcohol. Jessica has a passion for the alcohol industry, including agriculture, distillation and mixology. When Jessica is not writing about rum, she is also a travel and food enthusiast who loves going around the world and experiencing various cuisines and cultures. She is enthusiastic about sharing her knowledge and expertise and learning even more about this amazing spirit.