Learn more about the vegan drink trend and where you can find one in Boulder County.
When do coconut oils, nut butters, avocados, and cacao butter make a cocktail taste better? When they’re used as an alternative to animal fat-washed cocktails, a process that uses freezing and traditional fats (think pork fat, duck fat, beef fat, bacon, or even brown butter) to add a smoky, earthy flavor to complex, often aged liquors.
Cocktails developed using fat or oil first appeared in the mid-2000s in New York City, inspired by a process previously used by perfumers. The result knocked drinkers off their barstools, but it left vegans out of the loop. Now that’s starting to change.
Bartenders are replacing animal fats with plant-based fats and finding unexpected fun and rich flavors in their glass. A range of spirits can be fat-washed including bourbon, mezcal, vodka, and rum. When the spirits are fat washed it lends them an entirely new flavor profile, resetting the stage for a new range of cocktail recipes. Think of a coconut oil-washed mint julep, a vegan butter hot buttered rum or a truffle-oiled old fashioned.
Washing isn’t a quick process, but it also doesn’t have to take a while if you want to do it at home. Mixologists need to thoroughly combine the fat with the alcohol, and this is where the process can differ depending on which fat you choose. Once the fat is combined the liquid should be frozen and then as much fat as possible should be removed. The small amounts of fat that remain add new complexity to a liquor’s flavor profile.
Where can you find this in Boulder County? They’re not everywhere … yet. However, we reached out to a couple of bartenders we knew in the area, starting with 24 Carrot Bistro in Old Town Erie. They have a cocktail made with coconut-washed Japanese whisky, honey, salt, and lavender. It’s hot yet balanced with a little bit of sweet and spice. We had it sitting at the bar during one of their busy brunches.
We asked 24 Carrot’s head bartender Jennifer Shillington about the cocktail. She won our magazine’s pick for the Best of the West best cocktail program in East County and wanted to hear what drinkers had to say when they considered the concoction.
“People say, ‘That’s interesting, let me try it.’ Because we’re known particularly for our cocktail program, lots of folks come to see what we have. And we try to innovate. Once we had a sesame oil-washed cocktail where the alcohol and the oils from the seeds combined. I liked that, but I also like the one we currently have. They’re tricky to do, though. I’ve had them when they’re not executed properly, and it doesn’t work. They need to be balanced.”
In Niwot, Farow Restaurant has an olive oil-washed vodka with Aperol and lemon on their menu. Creative, light, and potent. Bartender Noah Elkind developed this cocktail after a trip to Brooklyn, New York when he enjoyed a specialty martini finished with a drop of olive oil. He took that as the inspiration to do something different at Farow. He let us taste unwashed and olive oil-washed vodka side by side. An olive oil taste was present, and it wasn’t bad. The mouth feel was more full and balanced with the alcohol in a nice way.
Later, when mixed with the lemon of the cocktail, it got even better, not at all overpowering. “We noticed there were some vodkas that weren’t ones people immediately latched on to. We wanted to make them more interesting. It’s a really fun thing, and it’s great for the mouthfeel of the liquor,” Elkind explains.
Outside of these two restaurant bar programs, our hunt for non-animal fat-washed cocktails didn’t lead to any other results — which is a shame — though we have hope that this will change in the future.
These cocktails not only cater to a growing audience of socially conscious, flavor-loving, discerning drinkers, there’s a bar-tab-generating motivation for adding these drinks to the menu, particularly in our area. Like other cocktails, they can work well for a range of meal settings. There’s a place for them before dinner, after dinner, at brunch, and at happy hour. The presence of these cocktails expands what flavors can be in a drink and, naturally, what foods can be entertainingly prepared for them.
We’re going to keep our eye out for more of these unique cocktails in the future.