Have You Had a Wagyu-Washed Cocktail Yet?
Meaty concoctions are taking over SF drink menus. Here’s where to try them.
“You need three ingredients for a cocktail,” according to Mad Men’s Peggy Olsen. “Mountain Dew and vodka is an emergency.” While we agree with Miss Olsen — well liquor and store-bought mixer do not a great cocktail make — we’re not sure even she could have predicted just how creative the craft cocktail landscape would become. From house-made syrups to aquafaba-based sours to the more-is-more mentality of tiki, the cocktail scene has embraced bold techniques and even bolder flavors. Now, it’s embracing meat-washed cocktails more than ever.
From chorizo rims to carnitas-washed whisky, the Bay Area is simmering with meat-centric drinks — and upon close examination of trends in both gastronomy and bar culture, it’s not hard to see why. Highly technical cocktails have been on the rise for some time now, with bartenders championing small batch bitters and house infusions. These days, fat-washed spirits are omnipresent on cocktail menus, made in-house by chilling a combination of liquor and fat before filtering the resulting liquid, which boasts a newfound complexity and smoother texture. And while one can use all manner of fats to wash spirits, many bartenders rely on animal fat for their added dimension and nuance.
“By infusing the spirits with fats such as duck fat and Wagyu tallow, the cocktails gain a seasoned fattiness that enhances their taste profile,” says Akikos’s Quade Marshall and Carson Dean.
Whether you’re fat-washing spirits or candying bacon to use as a garnish, techniques take time, and the newfound omnipresence of such technicality goes hand-in-hand with yet another rising trend: a conflation of the once-separate spaces afforded to cuisine and cocktails. Restaurants are boasting more robust bar programs that ever before, and bars are serving ever more intriguing food. The culinary slant accorded to cocktail programs paves the way for creative pairings, such as the lamb fat-washed Iwai 45 Japanese whiskey that Liliana bar director Uzziel “Uzzi” Pulido created to pair with a lamb belly-wrapped lamb loin dish, or the spiced beef tallow-washed rye at the heart of The Felix’s Pho Wimme, which reflects the star dish of Bodega SF just upstairs.
But these marriages aren’t just about flavors; they’re also reflective of a pervasive no-waste mentality. Indeed, many bartenders who use meat in their cocktails do so as a way of upcycling castoffs from the kitchen. The duck and wagyu fat for Akikos’s Sazerac Confit, for example, are leftover from dishes crafted chef Ray Lee. The Felix’s pho-scented beef tallow, too, comes straight from making Bodega SF’s staple pho. At Flores, general manager Teresa Martinez says the Mariachi Old Fashioned is made with fat left over from the house-made carnitas. And at Liliana, Pulido upcycles lamb fat from the dish that’s paired with the cocktail.
“I was inspired by Chef Cam’s enthusiasm for working with open fire and whole animal butchery,” Pulido says. “Keeping the spirit of zero-waste cooking, we wanted to find a way to utilize the lamb fat beyond dishes.”
These cocktails might seem so creative as to border on the avant-garde, but for Estiatorio Ornos‘s lead bartender Jose Luis Calderon, that’s part of the point. “With all the plant-based diners in the city, I wanted to have something on the menu that would attract those adventurous meat lovers,” he says.
Here are some of the most enticing meat-washed cocktails in the Bay Area.
Sazerac Confit, Akikos
This cocktail pairs two fat-washed liquors — duck fat-washed Cognac and Wagyu-washed high-rye bourbon — for a play on a Sazerac that’s luscious and rich. “Using duck fat in a signature dish, [chef Ray Lee] had extra rendered fat to play with,” Marshall says. “Since we offer it on the menu, [we] asked for any Wagyu fat he might have as well. The result was a delicious duck fat-washed Cognac and an unctuous Wagyu-washed high rye bourbon.”
Pho Wimme, The Felix
At the base of this aromatic cocktail is Michter’s Rye, which is fat-washed with spiced beef tallow left over from making pho upstairs. “We wanted to find ways to highlight our Asian heritage,” Ho says. “No better way than to use the most recognizable Vietnamese food item in the world.”
Two ounces of the rye is combined with half an ounce of Benedictine and two dashes of mole bitters, all stirred with ice and poured over a large ice cube. The drink is garnished with a Luxardo cherry for a cocktail that, according to Ho, is “a happy medium” between an Old Fashioned and a Vieux Carré. “The spices come out more in the aroma than the taste of the cocktail,” he says. “The fat wash gives it a creamy finish with each sip.”
Ojo de Tigre, La Mar
Unlike some of the other cocktails on this list, the Ojo de Tigre doesn’t feature any fat-washing — and it also, depending on who you ask, doesn’t feature meat. Instead, this cocktail features halibut, shrimp and octopus, a no-brainer considering La Mar’s focus on sustainably-caught, local seafood. “The leche de tigre is such a central feature of our menu in La Mar Bar that we wanted to incorporate it into our cocktail menu too,” says general manager Greg Spire. “It is a natural pair since it is so savory and acid-forward.”
The resulting cocktail combines the leche de tigre, infused with rocoto peppers and made fresh daily, with St. George Botanivore gin. “Botanivore has beautiful acid notes and a bright punch from the hops they use to flavor their gin,” Spire says. “And that is a perfect pair for the savory and refreshing aspects of the Ojo de Tigre.”
Mariachi Old Fashioned, Flores
At Flores, pork fat from the restaurant’s carnitas is strained off and combined with whiskey. After being chilled overnight, the whiskey is strained through muslin and then combined with agave and Angostura orange bitters for a tweak on an Old Fashioned that has a silky mouthfeel and subtle kick of spice.
“It gives it a light flavor of carnitas, not too overpowering but still present,” Martinez says, noting that the citrus marinade of the carnitas is echoed by the orange bitters. “My favorite is the soft texture it gives the spirit-forward cocktail, making it very easy to drink.”
Lamb Fat-Washed Iwai 45, Liliana
At Liliana, the sister restaurant of Michelin-starred Osito, Iwai 45 is washed with rendered lamb fat that’s infused with black cardamom for a slightly spicy flair and a silky-smooth mouthfeel. Married with pecan, habanero and Chartreuse, it takes on an even richer, deeper aroma. “I like the balanced gameyness of the lamb coupled with the sweetness of the whiskey, giving a place for the black cardamom aroma to exist,” Pulido says.
Kronos, Estiatorio Ornos
The Kronos cocktail begins with an infusion of six-year-old rye whiskey and lamb fat, a no-brainer for lead bartender Jose Luis Calderon. “Lamb is a Greek classic,” he says. “I wanted to bring those flavors in a liquid format.”
For Calderon, the key to the success of this cocktail was ensuring that the lamb fat remained subtle yet present. “It took a few experiments to get to that point of perfection,” he says. “Lamb fat has a little strong flavor that was not easy for me to work with.” He balances the fat-washed whiskey with maple, Amaro Nonino and cherry cacao bitters, and it’s become a go-to.
“Before I had worked with different fats, like Wagyu fat and bacon fat,” he says. “But I have to say this is my favorite one.”
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