Washed, but not wasted
Sean Pereira of Colaba's Woodside Inn tells us what made him launch fat-washed spirits when most mixologists would rather not
In 2007, Sean Pereira, bar concept head of Colaba's Woodside Inn, was working as chef in London when he first heard of the concept of "washed" cocktails. A certain Don Lee at New York's Please Don't Tell had combined bourbon and bacon to create the Benton's Old Fashioned by infusing a fatty flavour into alcohol. Periera recalls being fascinated by the seemingly bizarre idea. "Of course, it became such a sensation that chefs went berserk experimenting with fat-washing spirits, to the extent of even using grilled cheese sandwich," he laughs. Pereira, too, never quite got over the fascination.
Twelve years later, we are sitting at the quaint Colaba outpost sipping on what is Pereira's take on a Benton's Old Fashioned, now a classic concoction. Here, the cocktail (priced at R695) containing Jim Beam and angostura bitters comes with a bacon candy garnish. While the original inventor hoped to create a drink using "uniquely American flavours", Periera says, it's for anybody who likes bacon and bourbon. And, he's right.
The technique has imparted a rich texture and a silky mouthfeel to the drink rather than just a strong flavour of whiskey. The principle of washing, he explains, is based around flavouring alcohol with lipids. "It's what old-time perfumers would use to extract aromas from tricky compounds," he says. The process involves infusing a spirit with molten lipid in a jar, leaving it at room temperature for the molecules to interact then freezing the mixture overnight,scooping off the lipid and straining the spirit.
Turns out, he's the first mixologist to experiment with the technique in the city. Apart from being a long-drawn process, it's also easy to go wrong if the method is not followed to the T, which prevents mixologists from attempting it. "Honestly, there are no short cuts here," he says. Periera says there were certain drinks like the Shroom using Truffle Oil-washed Old Monk and mushroom that took a month to get right. "When we did a few trials with the guests, some didn't quite enjoy it. It doesn't play to the gallery, but I wanted to push the envelope."
Since the bacon-bourbon tipple may not please everybody, he has created a range of "vegetarian/vegan" and "non-vegetarian" cocktails. The pumpkin with brown butter-washed Old Monk contains pumpkin puree boosted with sweet spices and honey spirit. "We were tired of Hot Toddys that we felt creating a warm drink would be a value addition." There's also a Bacardi with fernet branca (Italian bitter herbal liqueur), Aquafaba using chickpeas and a butterfly pea infusion. "This one is a crowd favourite. It's pretty, thanks to the purple hue, smooth, vegan and importantly, tasty."
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