I’ve covered many cocktail trends over the years, from absinthe rinsing to dry shaking, but I never thought I’d see the day when animal lipids would leak their way into the language of mixology.
Welcome to the world of fat-washed spirits.
Yes, I’m talking animal fat and liquor, bound together in matrimony through a rather straightforward science, and it’s a thing here in Tucson and beyond. And now that I’ve been schooled on the subject by folks in the know, I can say that it’s a very good thing.
One example is the Ben & Gary’s Old Fashioned at Charro Del Rey, a product of the fat-washed friendship between butcher Ben Forbes and Chef Gary Hickey.
The cocktail preparations begin with pork fat from Forbes Meat Company that’s slowly warmed to produce a silky consistency. It’s then mixed with Tucson’s Whiskey Del Bac Classic before the spirituous slurry goes into the freezer for up to 48 hours.
Hickey notes that as it freezes, the fat will work its way to the top. And all it takes at that point is puncturing the surface of the frozen fat and watching the washed whiskey flow through it.
“Whatever magic happens in that freezer imparts a bacon flavor into a cocktail and introduces a residual fat that will coat the palate,” said Hickey, executive chef and partner at Charro Del Rey, 178 E. Broadway Blvd.
The Ben & Gary’s Old Fashioned brings the pork fat whiskey together with bitters, orange peel, cherries, and a bacon slice garnish.
“The fat balances out the other flavors in the cocktail,” he said. “With the bitters, the citrus from the orange, and the tanginess of the cherry, it’s that little bit of fat that ties it all together.”
Another local version of a fat-washed Old Fashioned is at Batch Café and Bar, 118 E. Congress St. It’s called the Pig & Duck, and it’s made with rendered duck fat from, you guessed it, Ben Forbes.
“Ben originally came to me with an idea for a duck fat Sazerac cocktail, because Sazeracs are his thing, but when he mentioned it I immediately thought Old Fashioned,” said Ronnie Spece, owner of Batch. “I asked Ben to give me a sample of his duck fat so I could play with it, and I ended up going through six or seven iterations before it hit.”
Spece’s fat-washing technique resembles that of Gary Hickey’s. His ratio is about one cup of rendered duck fat to a 750 ml bottle of whiskey that comprises the whip that goes in the freezer.
Once the whiskey flows through the frozen fat the next day, it’s stirred together with some maple syrup that’s been aged in rye whiskey barrels, along with aromatic and mole bitters, to produce Batch’s Pig & Duck.
So where does the pig in the name come from if the fat comes from ducks?
Of the nearly 350 whiskies that Batch stocks, Spece uses the WhistlePig Rye Whiskey for this cocktail, a favorite of his on the spirits spectrum that he said adds a savory note to the cocktail when washed with fat.
He’s also evaluating some options for the spent fat at what others might assume is the end point of its lifecycle.
“We started to think, instead of just buttering bread for our grilled cheeses, why not offer an upgrade and spread the bread with whiskey-washed fat?”
I have no words.
Cheers to Gary Hickey, Ronnie Spece, and Ben Forbes from yet another fat-washed fan.
Contact Matt Russell, whose day job is CEO of Russell Public Communications, at email@example.com. Russell is also the publisher of OnTheMenuLive.com as well as the host of the Friday Weekend Watch segment on the “Buckmaster Show” on KVOI 1030 AM.