Behind the Bar: Why Columbus Mixologists are Fat-Washing Cocktails

Bartenders at Echo Spirits and Watershed Kitchen & Bar explain how they use fats to enhance a cocktail’s flavor and elegance.

Erin Edwards
Columbus Monthly
Ikigai (left) and Heikegani cocktails at Watershed Kitchen & Bar

The hot Netflix competition show Drink Masters is artfully illuminating some of the complex techniques that go into making high-end craft cocktails. Two of those techniques highlighted on the show are fat-washing and milk-washing.

Basically, anything with a fat—from whole milk to peanut butter to coconut oil to bacon renderings—can be combined with alcohol and strained off to enhance the flavor, the texture and the look of a libation. We talked to two local beverage directors about the techniques.

Milk Punch Creations

Derek Reno, the beverage director at Echo Spirits Distilling Co. (985 W. Sixth Ave.), loves talking about milk punch, which is essentially milk-washing to achieve amazing clarity and velvety texture in a drink. Milk punches, which date back to the 1700s, combine whole milk with a spirit like gin or vodka, a tannic ingredient like red wine or tea, and lemon or citric acid. The acids are key, helping to curdle the milk and pull out any heavy particles (and pesky colors with them).

“Those milk proteins, when you add acidity, they all kind of tangle together,” he explains. “The whey is what you have leftover—the liquid portion of the milk—and you get this clarity.”

One of Reno’s more recent milk punch creations, Charlotte and Christophe, combines Echo Spirits genever, red wine, amaro, black tea, lemon and coriander bitters. After running this unattractive concoction through a tea strainer or cheesecloth several times, you’re left with a true mindbender: a symphony of flavors that don’t add up to the lovely gossamer pink look of the cocktail.

Olive oil seperates from washed cocktail at Watershed Kitchen & Bar

Brown-Butter Goodness

At Watershed Kitchen & Bar (1145 Chesapeake Ave., Ste. D), beverage director Ty Phillips-Bond recently released a new menu, with libations inspired by the flavors of Asia, Africa and South America.

The menu’s Ikigai cocktail, a Japan-inspired riff on an Old Fashioned, features brown butter-washed Watershed bourbon along with ingredients like plum wine and Japanese whisky. The washing method works this way: The team browns butter on the stove, strains some of the solids and then adds the hot brown butter to the bourbon. The butter and bourbon comingle at room temperature for two to three hours. Then, the mixture hits the freezer overnight so that the fats solidify into couscouslike balls, most of them floating to the surface. The next day, the bar team strains the bourbon using cheesecloth.

A top view of the Ikigai washed cocktail from Watershed Kitchen & Bar

“Some of those lipids from the fat linger in the bourbon,” Phillips-Bond says. “So, it gives it a nice silky mouthfeel, which is kind of the secondary goal of fat washing.” The first goal, he says, is imparting flavor. “The brown butter flavor really sticks around a lot from that fat wash, so you get that savory, caramel-y toffee brown butter flavor,” he says.

Olive Oil Elegance

Another of Watershed’s washed cocktails, the best-selling Heikegani, is all about achieving an elegant mouthfeel. Essentially a riff on a 50/50 gin martini, the cocktail is built with olive oil-washed Watershed Four Peel gin, plum wine, sherry and saline. The oil, which is removed from the gin using coffee filters, doesn’t impart much flavor at all. “The whole goal is to make sure that the martini isn’t too watery, and has a nice, velvety mouthfeel,” Phillips-Bond says.

“When someone comes in and [asks] ‘Why is this cocktail $16?’ Well, all this prep work goes in ahead of time to make it taste great and feel good in your mouth. And that has value to it,” he says.

Recipe: Coconut-Washed Rum

(From Derek Reno at Echo Spirits Distilling Co.)

1) Fill a large jar with 1 bottle (approximately 25 ounces) of Echo Spirits White Rum.

2) To a small saucepan add 1/4 cup of organic/cold-pressed extra virgin coconut oil and melt on a low heat. Stir as needed. 

3) Pour melted oil into the jar previously filled with rum. Cap the jar and shake.

4) Allow the jar with rum and coconut oil to sit out at room temperature for 4-8 hours. The fats will visibly rise to the top.

5) Place the jar in a freezer for a minimum of 3 hours. Overnight is recommended.

6) After taking the jar out of the freezer, remove as many large pieces of the resultant coconut "disc" at the top as possible. If needed, you can use a knife to slice off sections. 

7) Place sieve over a large bowl and, using a fine mesh cheesecloth, strain coconut-washed rum to remove remaining particulates. Repeat this process until you are left with a beautiful, clarified final product.

This story is from the March 2023 issue of Columbus Monthly.