Bottle of Jack Daniel's Tennessee whiskey with butter.

Brown Butter Fat-Washed Whisky: I Tried it and it’s Incredible

8 minutes

I’ve been hearing about fat-washed whisky for a while now. It’s not new, it’s been around since at least 2007 (see below), but I am intrigued so I decided to give it a try and see what all the fuss is about. Before taking you through my experience, let’s look at what fat-washing whisky is, and how to use this technique to enhance your cocktails at home.

What is Fat-Washing?

Fat-washing whisky, or any spirit, is done my mixing whisky with a fat or oil of choice, freezing the mixture, and then separating the fat from the spirit and leaving the flavour compounds behind to enhance the flavour of the whisky.

You can fat wash vodka, gin, rum, or any spirit you like using the same process. Whatever fat/spirit combination you use, fat-washing add depth, texture, and complexity to the spirit, and any cocktail you make.

A Little Fat-Washing History

Fat-washing gained popularity in 2007 in New York City when Don Lee, a bartender at Please Don’t Tell (PDT) in New York City, created the Benton’s Old Fashioned using bacon-infused bourbon.

Lee, however, credits Eben Freeman, another New York City bartender, known for brown butter-washed rum, as his inspiration. Freeman credits a pastry chef named Sam Mason, who in turn claims to have drawn inspiration from those in the perfume industry who used fat-washing to draw aromas out of some difficult-to-use compounds.

Clearly, the credit goes to several innovative people whose inspiration, and ingenuity have given all of us a richer, more enjoyable cocktail drinking experience.

How Fat-Washing Imparts Flavor to Whisky

For the flavours from the fat to be incorporated into the whisky they need to be dissolved in the whisky. But, as you correctly point out, fat is not water soluble, so how can it be dissolved in the whisky, and if it doesn’t dissolve, how can the flavour compound from the fat make its way into the whisky?

Patience my young Padawan, let me explain. The fats we use to fat-wash whisky have a combination of fat-soluble, and water-soluble compounds. The water-soluble component of the fat will be dissolved by both the water in the spirit and the alcohol. Ethanol, or ethyl alcohol can also dissolve the fat-soluble compounds in the fat, incorporating those into the flavour of the spirit as well.

The result is a spirit that both takes on some of the flavour characteristics of the fat (water soluble, and fat-soluble components), and gains a creamy, smooth texture giving the spirit a richer mouthfeel.

Growing Trend in the Mixology Scene

Fat-washing spirits is growing in popularity and showing no signs of slowing down as people experiment with different spirits and fats to find innovative complementary combinations.

Adding to its popularity is the ease with which anyone can fat-wash spirits at home. No need for any specialty tools, or expensive ingredients, just a little research and practice and you’ll be fat-washing spirits in no time.

How to Fat-Wash Whisky

There are many combinations of whisky and fat, depending on the flavour profile you're looking for, but the basic process is the same regardless of what combination of whisky and fat you're using. The process involves mixing whisky and fat so the fat imparts flavour to the whisky, chilling and then separating the fat from the whisky, and then enjoying your fat-washed whisky on its own, or in a cocktail that benefits from the additional complexity imparted by the fat-washing process such as an Old Fashioned.

Jack Daniel's Old #7 Tennessee Whiskey and a pound of butter.

For my first attempt at fat-washing whisky I chose a relatively simple whisky, Jack Daniels Old #7, and fat-washed it with brown butter. I chose this combination for a number reasons:

  1. I always have a bottle of Jack on hand, so no trip to the liquor store was required
  2. I wanted a whisky that I was familiar with
  3. Jack’s flavour profile can be described as having notes of banana, nuts, and caramel, with a touch of smoke, all of which pair well with browned-butter
  4. I had butter, and browned-butter is easy to make, so simplicity for the win

Common Spirit/Fat Combinations

Bourbon/Whisky – The oaky, vanilla, caramel and even smoky notes in bourbon and other whiskies pair well with butter or bacon fat. I would even try rendered beef fat from smoked brisket for something unique. The smoked-fat would probably work quite well. I’ve seen peanut butter moonshine in stores so peanut butter, or peanut oil would also be a good combination to try at home.
Tequila or Mezcal – Mezcal is already smoky, and tequila is sweet and fruity. Combining these with bacon for a smoky and savoury margarita could be quite good. Tequila would pair well with coconut oil, or orange infused olive oil would enhance tropical cocktails like the tequila sunrise.
Rum – The tropical, sweet notes in rum make it a perfect candidate for fat-washing with coconut oil, or banana oil to enhance any rum based cocktail.
Gin – Gin is very herbal with heavy use of botanicals to give it its unique flavour profile. Using a herb infused olive oil that’s infused with some of the same botanicals would add the smooth creamy mouthfeel you’re looking for in a fat-washed gin, without overpowering an already complex flavour profile. Sesame oil, olive oil, or an olive oil infused with lemon, orange, thyme, smoked olive wood, or other infused olive oil would all be great pairings that would elevate a martini.
Vodka – Vodka is a clear, heavily distilled and filtered spirit leaving it with almost no flavour of its own, leaving it wide open for you to enhance its flavour with almost any fat you choose. Think about the cocktail you are going to make and choose a fat that would enhance that cocktail. Lemon, lime, orange, or herb infused olive oil would all be great in a martini.

Fat to Spirit Ratio

According to the Liquid Intelligence book by Dave Arnold, a good starting point is 4 oz. of fat per 750 ml of spirits for stronger fats such as bacon or duck fat, and 8 oz. of fat per 750 ml of spirits for lighter fats such as butter and olive oil.

Keep in mind though, that as with many recipes, these are just guidelines. Feel free to use whatever ratio you like. Experiment with different fat-spirit combinations to find what works best for you and achieves the end result you’re looking for. 

Equipment Needed to Fat-Wash Whisky

Ingredients

  1. Fat of choice
  2. Spirit of choice

Equipment

  1. Pot or pan to prepare fat
  2. Whisk
  3. Mason jar, or other sealed container
  4. Coffee filter

Method to Fat-Wash Whisky

All you need to do is follow a few simple steps and you’ll be fat-washing whisky in no time. It doesn’t matter what fat you use, or what spirit you wash, the fat-washing process is essentially the same, with minor variations.

  • Olive or coconut oils can be added as-is
  • If you are using butter the butter will need to be melted
  • If using bacon fat the bacon will need to be cooked so the fat renders. You could add just the fat, or the fat and some chopped up bacon to the spirit, as long as all solids are filtered out at the end of the process.
  1. Select your fat and spirit pairing - As mentioned above, I chose brown butter with Jack Daniels Old #7 because the flavour profile of Jack Daniel’s will work well with browned butter.

    1 cup of Jack Daniel's Tennessee whiskey.
  2. Prepare the fat - Melt the butter over medium heat, stirring constantly. As soon as the butter begins to brown, remove it from the heat and let it cool slightly.

    Butter just starting to brown.
  3. Blend the fat with the spirit - Pour the whisky into a container that you can seal with a lid. Pour the cooled fat into the whisky and stir, or cover and shake, to combine. Leave the whiskey on the counter for 4 to 6 hours (less if using animal fats). The fat will float to the top, so stir or shake every 20 - 30 minutes to keep the fat blended with the whisky as much as possible, instead of just floating on top.

    Pouring the brown butter into the whiskey.
  4. Place in the freezer for at least 24 hours - The fat will float to the top and solidify so it will be easy to separate from the whisky.
  5. Remove from freezer and skim/remove the fat off the top of the spirit - I was able to easily take most of the solidified butter off the top of the whisky in one piece with a spoon.

    Removing the frozen butter from the top of the whiskey.
  6. Pour spirit through a coffee filter to remove any remaining solids - The last thing you want is bits of solidified fat in your cocktail. Pour the whisky through a coffee filter so you are left with only liquid. A coffee filter will not take out all the fat, just the smaller visible pieces so your whisky will likely be cloudy – that’s ok.
    You also now have some delicious whisky infused butter. Do not throw it away! I kept it to use on pancakes and French toast. The whisky butter is excellent with maple syrup – Delicious!

    Brown butter whiskey on the left, after filtering through a coffee filter, vs whiskey straight from the bottle on the right.
  7. Pour the remaining spirit into a clean Mason jar and store in the refrigerator - Contrary to popular belief, strong spirits do not kill bacteria. The alcohol in the whisky will not preserve your blend indefinitely. If using animal fat such as bacon, or duck fat, the whisky will have a limited shelf life and should be consumed within 1 to 2 weeks. Other fat-washed spirit combinations should be used within 2 to 4 weeks.

Now That You Have Your Fat-Washed Whisky, What to do, What to do

So how did it turn out you ask? The result is an incredibly rich, buttery smooth whisky that tastes fantastic, even on its own, and improves, and elevates a simple, classic cocktail like the Old Fashioned by giving it a richer, more elegant flavour.

Now what cocktail do you want to make? The first fat-washed cocktail I made was a Brown Butter Old Fashioned. I'll be posting additional recipes as I fat-wash more spirits and try them in different cocktails. Once you see how easy fat-washing is you'll be inspired to fat-wash different combinations of fats and spirits and try them in any of your favourite cocktails.

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