By now, you’re probably well-acquainted with your home bar—acutely aware of each and every combination imaginable with the bottles and ingredients you have on hand. But there’s always room for improvement, especially when you’ve got some extra time on your hands. That extra bacon grease from breakfast? Try fat-washing bourbon, or any spirit for that matter. Those spare paper coffee basket filters? Use them to clarify your Piña Colada—and maybe rethink it as a long bubbly drink. What about teas, jams and juices? With a little yeast, you can start fermenting grape-less “wine” to add to cocktails. And, if you’re feeling especially ambitious, do as bartender Ian McPherson does, and “switch” your base spirits, replacing the water content with juice to really transform what you’re drinking. Whether you’re in need of a cocktail project as a distraction or a way to pass the time—or maybe a little of both—here are four techniques to master right now.
First employed in the famous Benton’s Old-Fashioned at PDT in 2007, fat-washing has evolved to encompass a whole wave of spirit-infusion techniques. At its simplest, fat-washing requires melting a fat, say coconut oil or animal fat, infusing it into a spirit, freezing the mixture, then straining out the solids for a bolder, fuller-bodied flavor. Exactly what you choose to infuse is entirely up to you and your pantry, but avocado oil, peanut butter and even chocolate milk are all fair game.
Transform everything from Daiquiris to Cuba Libres into crystal clear liquid—no centrifuge necessary—with one of several techniques: Allow the solids within a cocktail to gel with the addition of agar-agar before straining them out; curdle them with milk as is often seen in clarified milk punches; or simply filter out those particles with a sieve or muslin.
This Frankenstein approach to spirit infusion requires freezing the spirit’s water content to separate it from the alcohol, which can then be replaced with just about any liquid. Ian McPherson, one of the primary advocates of the technique, has experimented with grapefruit gin and watermelon bourbon. So long as you have a freezer than can reach -27ºC, there’s plenty of room for experimentation.
Fermenting projects shouldn’t be relegated to sourdough starters and pickles. Equipped with a packet of wine yeast, you can transform teas, juices and jams into wine-like ferment. The final product can be treated as a finished cocktail or mixed with other ingredients to enhance the complexity of even the simplest formula.