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Whiskey upgrade: How to fat wash your favorite whiskey or bourbon to add new depths of flavor

Add flavor to whiskey or bourbon with fat-washing

Whiskey glass
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If you pay attention to the cocktail or whiskey world, you’ve probably heard the term “fat-washed” at some point. You also might not have any idea what that means. You might assume you should, so you don’t want to ask anyone and seem foolish, right? It sounds like you’re washing whiskey with some kind of fat, whatever that means. If you think that, you’re on the right track. It is a technique to change the flavor of whiskey (and other spirits), but it has nothing to do with your kitchen sink, washing machine, dishwasher, or anything like that.

In the simplest terms, fat washing is a cocktail technique in which some form of fat (like bacon fat, butter, or some other fat) is added to room-temperature whiskey (like in a dish or sealable container, not a bottle). It sits on the counter for a few hours so the fat can separate from the spirit before being put into a refrigerator or freezer until the fat forms a solid crust on top. Scrap it off or strain it through cheesecloth and you have a buttery, fatty, flavorful whiskey to pour back into a bottle to use in your favorite cocktails. Sounds simple enough. To do it right requires a little bit more effort than that. There are steps that need to be taken.

This isn’t anything new; it’s been popular for more than fifteen years in the cocktail community. Back in 2008, bartender Don Lee at PDT (Please Don’t Tell) in New York City started the craze. This was when he began making the now-famous Benton’s Old Fashioned, which is made with a base of bourbon fat washed with bacon fat. Over the years, bartenders have used other fats, including peanut butter, cheese, sesame oil, truffle oil, and even duck fat.

After reading this, there’s a decent chance we’ve piqued your interest in this unique cocktail technique. You probably want to fat-wash your own bourbons, ryes, and maybe even other spirits for use in various buttery, flavorful, fatty cocktails. Keep scrolling to learn a few tips to help make your fat-washed whiskey a hit and not a savory, salty mess.

Fat washing
Oliver Plattner/Unsplash

What do you need to fat-wash whiskey?

These are all of the tools and ingredients you should gather.

  • Whiskey: Obviously, you’ll need a bottle of whiskey.
  • Measuring tools: You’ll also need measuring cups and various measuring spoons.
  • A kitchen scale: You’ll need a kitchen scale if you’re going to specifically measure a certain amount of fat to be added.
  • A container: A large sealable container is extremely important as you wouldn’t want to try to do everything using a bottle. It might get messy.
  • Filtering tools: A strainer, a spoon to scoop off the fat, and/or cheese cloth or coffee filter is also a must.
  • Fat: Your fat of choice (obviously).

Get creative

One of the most fun things about fat-washing whiskey (and other ingredients) is the ability to get creative and wild with it. Nobody wants to ruin a perfectly good bottle of whiskey by fat-washing it with an uncomplimentary flavor. But you can pair bourbon with bacon fat, truffle oil, duck fat, vegetable oil, or straight-up butter. If you want to go the sesame oil, peanut butter (or other nut-centric butters) or coconut oil route, maybe don’t use a whole bottle. Some of those pair better with other whiskeys and spirits. For example, if you want to fat-wash dark rum, what could be better than coconut oil?

Ratios are important

While the best way to really get a buttery, flavorful whiskey from fat washing is to have a ratio of 1:1, you might want to work your way up to that by starting with less fat. This is especially true when it comes to aggressively flavorful fats like smoky, savory bacon fat. A good start is to have a ratio of two tablespoons of fat to one cup of whiskey. Clearly, more intense fats require an even more lopsided ratio. Also, as you work with more whiskeys and more fats, you’ll find the ratio that suits you and your particular palate.

Add other flavors

Whiskey purists might think this is blaspheme, but if you’re already fat-washing your whiskey, why not go right ahead and add some other flavors as well? You always enjoyed a nice shot of Fireball at a tailgate, right? How about a glass of Jim Beam Red Stag on a cool evening? After you add your fat of choice, add some spices like cinnamon or nutmeg or herbs like rosemary or mint. You can even add berries, cherries, or apples if you prefer.

Knob Creek bourbon
Nathan Dumlao/Unsplash

How long will it last?

If you fat wash with butter, natural oils, or peanut butter, your whiskey should be fine sitting on your home bar waiting to be enjoyed neat, on the rocks, or mixed into your favorite cocktail. Bacon fat-washed whiskeys and duck fat whiskeys should be stored in the refrigerator and consumed within a few weeks. Luckily, if you do it right, it will be so good you’ll want to drink it as soon as possible and let friends and family sample it.

Like with anything new, you’re going to have a few challenges and maybe a few unpalatable samples along the way. But if you stick with it and just have fun, you’ll learn a new skill to turn your cocktail game up to eleven.

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Christopher Osburn
Christopher Osburn is a food and drinks writer located in the Finger Lakes Region of New York. He's been writing professional
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