Industry News & Press

Would You Drink Olive Oil in Your Cocktail?

Original article from Vice

olive oil bottle with an umbrella cocktail

Ingredients like fat and butter are all over high-end cocktails. We tried the best, then made our own at home. 

At a certain point in your drinking career, there are few surprises left. You know what you like: clear or dark liquor, straight or with a mixer, sweetened or soured. Even when you order something outside of your usual palate, you probably already have a general sense of what it will taste like. But like with food, alcohol isn’t just about flavor but about texture, too. And across the cocktail world, drinks are getting increasingly thicker, fattier, and oilier.

Over the last few years, I’ve begun seeing ingredients like olive oil and butter make their way into alcoholic beverages. It’s being added in half-teaspoon quantities to shakers, dripped atop finished drinks, and even infused with the liquor itself. It obviously sounds fancy as hell, but also—surprisingly!—unexpected. Water and oil don’t mix, but alcohol and oil do. But just because they can mix, should they? Is the oil and alcohol combination best left to the professionals, or is it something we all ought to be leveling up our drinks with at home? I first became introduced to the terms “fat-wash” and “oil-wash” via the Netflix cocktail competition show Drink Masters, in which participants occasionally used the technique and yielded all sorts of comments about “depth” and “mouthfeel” from judges. It took some Googling actually to figure out what it meant, though. Basically, to wash alcohol with fat simply means to combine a liquor with oil or animal fat and let it sit for anywhere from a few hours to, hypothetically, forever.

“The process of infusing spirits with oils, fats, or butter has been an integral way to manipulate the taste profiles of cocktails by extracting the essential flavors from each option without having to retain the fatty byproducts,” explains Grant Hewitt, vice president of beverage at Loews Hotels & Co. The ratio of oil to alcohol can vary, but many recipes call for around a quarter cup of oil per cup of liquor. You stir the two, leave it out while covered at room temperature for several hours or longer, then freeze. Much of the oil will solidify, allowing you to skim it off the top and strain the rest. With this, you’ll “yield a spirit that now has the essential flavor profiles of your oil, fat, or butter,” says Hewitt.

Soon after learning the concept, I began noticing it in the real world. It remains relegated primarily to high-end cocktail bars, but still. At Mace, for example, a spot in New York City I only ever go when I’m not paying, their current menu features drinks containing a sesame oil-washed shochu and “farm butter Grey Goose.” I tried the latter, and noticed that there was indeed a slippery quality and hint of salty richness I wouldn’t typically associate with alcoholic beverages. Elsewhere in the city, Mishik utilizes a house-made porcini truffle oil, and da Toscano, Misi, and Chez Zhou all feature oil-washed martinis. It’s not just a New York phenomenon, though it likely did originate here as a trend with Please Don’t Tell’s bacon fat-washed old fashioned in 2008. At Herb & Sea in Encinitas, CA, bar lead Laz Jimenez has popularized an olive oil cake-inspired washed cocktail. In Chicago, Cariño beverage consultant Denisse Soto infused génépy, olive oil, and rosemary for a gin/mezcal cocktail, while beverage director Nicole Yarovinsky of Daisies has spearheaded a vodka sour utilizing an olive oil syrup, which is “stabilized to an almost gomme-like texture” in the drink. Newly-opened Tokyo bar Tokyo Confidential offers a miso brown butter-washed gin cocktail and another utilizing hazelnut oil, created by head bartender Wakana (Waka) Murata.

Obviously, none of these places are dives, and you’re probably not about to find drinks of this type at your local hole-in-the-wall. At a minimum, it takes several hours of prep time to infuse, and most bars aren’t keeping artisanal oils behind the counter, anyway. But even though it sounds complicated and impressive, it’s obviously rather straightforward to do, in theory. All it takes is two ingredients and some time. And so, there are some hints that the practice is becoming more popular with home bartenders, too. Recently, craft cocktail kit company Camp collaborated with California olive oil company Corto to create an “on-trend olive oil cocktail” that customers could make at home through a DIY set called the Corto Cup. Theirs plays up the oil incorporation in three ways: adding half a teaspoon of oil to the shaker, dropping little dots of oil atop the finished drink or, if you’re feeling experimental, doing a wash.

Last week, I gave it a try for myself. Indeed, feeling experimental, I went for the wash and added their recommended 1oz of basil and lemongrass olive oil to a jar of vodka infusing with sage, cranberries, and sugar, per the Camp kit. I shook it a bit, let it sit for a few hours, then put it in my freezer Friday afternoon to be ready for a pre-dinner drink. In the evening, I set out to make two Corto Cups, as the recipe card stated, adding the strained infused vodka, lemon juice, and simple syrup over ice in a shaker and adding the recommended half teaspoon of additional oil. Using a straw, I made little dollops of oil to decorate the top of the beverages.

The result was, unsurprisingly, oily—but it worked. The added thickness and herbaceousness of the olive oil counterbalanced the sweetness of the drink, resulting in a perfectly sippable, complex drink that you’d probably pay $22 for at a cocktail bar. (The Camp/Corto kit isn’t all that cheap either at $65 for 16 drinks, not including the liquor. You’ll be left with nearly the entire bottle of olive oil to use as you please, though.)

For me, that added teaspoon of oil in addition to using oil-washed liquor was probably a step too far. So, for a second round, I skipped out on adding extra oil and found that the drink maintained its complexity and slight viscosity while texturally feeling a bit more like a drink should. In my fridge now, I have a jar of plain gin sitting with more of the Corto basil lemongrass olive oil. It certainly won’t go to waste, though I don’t know precisely how or when to use it. Surely, I’ll have to be feeling experimental again. That’s exactly what something like an oil-wash is for, though: it’s a way to add an element of surprise to an area of consumption many of us might already feel relatively familiar with. And like any other ingredient, liquor included, there are ways of overdoing it. With that in mind, it remains unlikely that we will all start drinking oil-washes every time we drink. But for those times we want something different, something odd, a healthy dose of fat in your cocktail seems like just the way to get that.