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Sous Pression, Sous Vide, Fat Washing & Barrel Aging: 4 Cocktail Techniques Explained In 4 Drinks!

It's an exciting time to be a bargoer! Today's mixologists are constantly innovating and applying new cocktail making techniques to up the ante, and draw out new dimensions of flavour and textures that can be experienced in a cocktail.

We recently sat down with Rohan Matmary, Head Bartender of Bar Trigona (Voted Best Bar in Malaysia for four years running!) to chat about some trending cocktail making techniques: fat washing, sous vide, sous pression and barrel aging.

Along the way, Rohan breaks down each of these techniques and illustrates the practicalities of their usage through a different unique cocktail on the Bar Trigona's new "Colour Me Curious" cocktail menu! 

1. Fat Washing

What is Fat Washing? Fat Washing involves infusing a type of fat into a spirit to impart the flavour of the fat, but not the fattiness itself! This technique was invented by Don Lee and Jim Meehan at PDT in New York City during the 2000s, who used it to infuse bacon fat into a whiskey. It has since become a mainstay technique for professional bartenders and home cocktail enthusiasts alike.

To fat wash a spirit, one would take a type of fat, put it into any spirit to allow it to emulsify together, before freezing the mixture so the fat can re-solidify and be strained out.

When To Use Fat Washing: According to Rohan, fat washing is particularly useful when you're trying to create spirit-forward cocktails that are poured over ice. "Fat washing allows us to play with the texture of the drink and lock the spirit with a certain denseness and richness. In that way, it remains nice and flavourful even when poured over ice. Especially in Asia, when it's around 30°C all year round, it’s important to have cold cocktails and to serve cocktails with ice." 

Fat Washing in Practice: With the help of fat washing, Bar Trigona's "Tropica" cocktail is infused with two variants of coconut. First, Rohan and his team fat washes gin with coconut oil, before adding coconut water to dilute it. The coconut water gives the cocktail a fragrant coconut aroma while the coconut oil adds a certain level of richness that's Rohan insists is key to a great Negroni.

2. Sous Vide

What is Sous Vide: Sous vide is a process whereby spirits and ingredients like fruits, herbs, spices or other produce are vacuum sealed in a bag and immersed in a water bath at a precisely controlled temperature. This method ensures that the flavours are melded and infused into the spirit with the application of heat.

When To Use Sous Vide: "Sous Vide is one of those techniques we’ve used for very long because it simply works really well. This is especially so with ingredients that you might not like the colour of or when you don’t want to impart a lot of impurities into the drink," Rohan explains. "By adding heat, you can just pull in the flavour from the fruit without actually adding cloudiness." This keeps the liquid clear while still retaining the essence of the ingredient. 

Another factor that has made Sous Vide an indispensable tool in a bartender's kit is the time efficiency it affords. Traditional infusions require time, yet a sous vide bath allows heat to draw out flavour from the ingredients and into the spirit in a faster and more precise manner. 

Sous Vide in Practice: Carrots are a key hero ingredient in the "Sienna" cocktail at Bar Trigona. Yet, when workshopping this drink, Rohan shared that the hardness of the carrot can make it difficult to tease out its flavours from. "Well, you could blend it up, but then it becomes a glass of carrot juice, but we felt we wanted something a bit more nuanced." Eventually, by placing a mixture of carrots and gin into a sous vide bath for over 24 hours, the Bar Trigona team was able to extract a stronger carrot flavour from the carrot that's imparted into the gin.

3. Sous Pression

What is Sous Pression? Think of Sous Pression as an inverse Sous Vide. This technique, recently invented by Iain McPherson from Panda and Sons in Edinburgh, utilises the power of freezing to generate a pressure strong enough to "leach" out the flavour in an ingredient and infuse it into a spirit. 

When To Use Sous Pression: When working with fruits and vegetables that do not play well with heat, Sous Pression helps to extract the flavour from such produce without causing spoilage. "It works really well when you think about a fruit that has a certain crunch to it when you bite into it, that you don’t necessarily get in a jam or pureed form. When you consider a fruit like lychee, it has a really delicate crunch and aroma, but much of this essence is prone to spoiling away when you apply heat to it [via a Sous Vide]," explains Rohan, who consulted with Iain when he applied the technique. 

Elsewhere in an interview with Punch mag, Iain observed that Sous Pression also helps to soften the harshness of the alcohol and reduce the acidity, resulting in a smoother finish. 

Sous Pression in Practice: Bar Trigona's Zen cocktail uses Sous Pression to meld the fresh flavours of lychee into a reimagined martini. "We applied Sous Pression as a method to introduce the flavour of lychee into a martini. To that, we also added a touch of pickled ginger, which carries a slight salty savouriness from the vinegar and a bit of heat. We combined the mixture of gin, vodka, lychee and pickled ginger into a vacuum sealed bag, freeze it for 24 hours before straining it out," Rohan shares.

4. Barrel Aging

What is Barrel Aging: Barrel ageing, as it applies to cocktail making, involves taking a pre-mixed drink and allowing it to sit in a wooden container for a period fo time. This process is akin to cask-finishing, during which the oak notes and flavour aromatics from the wood is infused into the drink. 

When to Use Barrel Aging: Barrel Aging is a great way to impart woody complexity and new aromatic notes to a mixed drink. It can also help to mellow out harsher flavours and allow different ingredients to integrate in a more harmonious way.

Barrel Aging in Practice: To create the Santo cocktail, the Bar Trigona team takes a mix of bourbon, whiskey and vermouth and ages it in box made from Palo Santo wood for three months. On his choice of wood, Rohan shared that Palo Santo is a type of incense from South America. By barrel aging his drink in a Palo Santo box, this process imparts a spicy note without added sweetness, and the resultant barrel-aged spirit is then used to create a whisky sour. 


If you'd like to sample some of these cocktails in person and experience the magic of these cocktail techniques first hand, they are now available to order within "Colour Me Curious" cocktail menu at Bar Trigona at the Four Seasons Hotel Kuala Lumpur! 


Happy sipping!