15 Cocktails Elevated By Butter

As you can probably imagine, adding butter to a cocktail gives it a rich sweetness and creamy mouthfeel. But when it comes to elevating cocktails with butter, there's a lot more to it than cutting off a pat of butter and plopping it into your cocktail shaker.

The use of butter and other types of fat in cocktails became a lot more popular with the rise of a technique called fat washing. Popularized by Don Lee — a former bartender at the Please Don't Tell speakeasy in New York City — fat washing involves adding a liquid fat to a liquor, mixing it, placing it in a freezer for several hours, and skimming off the resulting fat layer. The result is a spirit with a richer mouthfeel that's been infused with the flavors of the fat. Lee used the technique to create unique spins on an Old Fashioned and a highball. Bartenders around the world have followed his lead and many of them have developed new ways to elevate cocktails with butter.

Hot Buttered Rum

The hot buttered rum is a fun, boozy way to end a long day out in cold weather, but when you're enjoying this cocktail, you're also drinking history in a glass. Americans have been drinking hot buttered rum since molasses was imported to the American colonies. Because rum was seen as a lower-class spirit for much of American history, hot-buttered rum fell out of favor after the colonial period and languished in obscurity until it was revived by tiki icon Trader Vic.

If you are going to fix yourself a glass of this American classic, you should know there are some great rums for hot buttered rum. Because this drink can be very booze-forward, you'll probably want a smooth rum that's on the cusp of being a sipping rum. For example, the El Dorado 12-Year Demerara rum is smooth enough to stand on its own, but still has enough bite to complement the baking spices in the batter. If you're a fan of bold flavors, Appleton Estate 12-Year rum brings a signature Jamaican funk to the festivities. There's also the school of thought that you need a high-proof rum to stand out from the batter, making Hamilton Navy Strength a great choice.

Brown Butter Old Fashioned

Bartender Don Lee popularized fat washing with a unique old-fashioned variation you need to try. After you've tried Benton's Old Fashioned, which is made using bacon fat, you move on to other types of fat-washed Old Fashioned, including one made with brown butter.

If you've never made brown butter before, then this take on an Old Fashioned should be your excuse to give it a try. Brown butter is made by slowly and gently cooking butter in a saucepan until it turns the color of a lager and gives off a pleasing, nutty aroma. Slow and gentle cooking causes sugars in the butter to caramelize, creating a more complex flavor.

To fat-wash bourbon for your Old Fashioned, start by pouring a full bottle of bourbon into a freezer-safe container with a lid. Brown 1 cup of butter and allow it to cool slightly so that it's not hot to the touch. Whisk the brown butter a little bit at a time into your bourbon. Seal your container and stick it in the fridge overnight. In the morning, remove your container from the freezer and skim off the top layer of fat. Reserve this bourbon-infused brown butter and store it in your freezer for later use, such as basting steaks or making shortbread. The bourbon can then be used to make a great-tasting Old Fashioned.

Cinema Highball

When bartender Don Lee popularized fat washing, he did it by evoking sense memories with his cocktails. His first fat-washed cocktail was an Old Fashioned made with bacon fat and maple syrup, and it was meant to evoke weekend breakfasts of pancakes and bacon.

Lee's second cocktail to popularize fat washing with similarly designed to evoke a memory using the senses. After trying popcorn soup at the iconic and now-closed restaurant wd~50, Lee set about developing a cocktail that incorporated popcorn. He associated popcorn with movie theaters, and the classic movie theater drink, Coca-Cola. Lee then thought about another classic combination: rum and Coke. All of these things brought together can be found in Lee's signature Cinema Highball drink.

Our adapted drink recipe for a Cinema Highball starts by infusing rum with air-popped popcorn. The rum is then fat-washed with clarified butter before being mixed with Coca-Cola in an ice-filled Collins glass. Incidentally, the Cinema Highball is just one of many popcorn cocktails that are having a moment right now.

Brown Butter Espresso Martini

Like most things '90s these days, the espresso martini has made a comeback, and while there's nothing wrong with the drink per se, its plain vodka base calls out for an upgrade. One simple upgrade is using rum in your next espresso martini. Aged rum is particularly well suited to an espresso martini. While vodka is flavorless, aged rum brings vanilla, caramel, and molasses notes, which are natural partners with espresso. You can take an espresso martini even further away from its roots and make it more decadent, by adding cream.

A much more elegant way to add the richness of dairy is to fat-wash the base spirit with brown butter. The Poka Lola Social Club in Denver has used this technique with vodka to create an espresso martini that has a mouthfeel reminiscent of hot buttered rum, but without the rum. Naturally, you could also fat-wash aged rum with brown butter for an even more complex espresso martini.

Brown Butter Bourbon Sour

The whiskey sour is one of the oldest cocktails still being made today and thanks to the ongoing craft cocktail revival, it's getting a bit more respect for its name. The whiskey sour became popular as a way for British sailors to avoid scurvy, with lemon juice being a great source of vitamin C. The classic whiskey sour cocktail recipe includes whiskey, lemon juice, and simple syrup; and it's all shaken with an egg white.

While whiskey and lemon juice nicely contrast one another, butter and lemon are a classic complimentary pairing that is popular in cuisines of the Mediterranean. But this pair can do much more outside the saucepan, and it makes for a great take on a classic whiskey sour. For this drink, we prefer the vanilla, oak, and caramel notes of bourbon, which also complement butter. Browning the butter before fat washing adds much more complexity to the resulting cocktail.

Brown Butter Coffee Negroni

The Negroni: Chances are, you either love it or you hate it. The coffee Negroni should have some appeal regardless of what side of the fence you happened to fall on. For those who love the drink, adding a bit of coffee can be a refreshing Negroni variation. For Negroni haters, adding coffee can dial back some of the harsher botanicals found in gin and Campari.

There are two ways to go about adding coffee to a Negroni. First, you could perform an infusion of coffee beans into either one of the liquors or the mixed cocktail. Second, you could add some coffee liqueur and reduce the amounts of the other liquors to your taste. The resulting cocktail is a great year-round drink that's perfect for brunch or as an after-dinner cocktail. You can also take your coffee Negroni a step further away from the original with the addition of brown butter. Fat washing one of the liquors or the cocktail itself with brown butter adds caramel and butterscotch notes, giving the drink subtle notes of a coffee shop latte.

Cocoa Butter Vieux Carre

Used to make white chocolate, cocoa (or cacao) butter is a product of the cocoa (cacao) bean. After the beans are harvested, they are fermented, dried, roasted, and ground. The grinding process produced cocoa butter and cocoa mass, which is turned into cocoa powder. Like dairy butter, cocoa butter is solid at room temperature but has a melting point that's lower than body temperature.

Adding a fat wash of cacao butter is a great way to elevate a classic New Orleans cocktail, the Vieux Carré. Made with rye whiskey, Cognac, sweet vermouth, Bénédictine, and two kinds of bitters, the Vieux Carré is a bold, spirit-based cocktail. If you're not a fan of potent potables, you might be open to a Vieux Carré with fat-washed Cognac. The resulting cocktail has all the fruity and spicy notes of a classic Vieux Carré, but with a lingering velvety mouthfeel that ships hints of chocolate.

Dirty Butter Martini

In the 19th century, martinis tended to include more vermouth than they do today, and as a result, were much sweeter drinks. In the 20th century, martinis were made with less vermouth making them drier and more potent. The dirty martini was allegedly invented in 1901 as a way to balance out the increased potency of the classic drink. The earliest dirty martinis were made by muddling olives in the glass, but today they're made using olive juice from a jar.

We would like to make the case that fat washing your gin makes for a better martini. It has become common to fat-wash martini gin with olive oil, but butter and olives are a classic pairing that can elevate a dirty martini, whether it's made with vodka or gin. Because the butter needs to stand up to the other strong flavors in the martini and high alcohol content, it's best to fat wash with an artisanal butter that has a significant depth of flavor.

Gardenia Coffee Grog

In the case of hot buttered rum, butter is used as a classic ingredient in a drink that dates back to colonial America. In the case of fat-washing liquor with brown butter, the dairy product is used in a more modern way. But there's also a mid-century way to elevate cocktails with butter: gardenia mix.

Developed by tiki icon Donn Beach, gardenia mix is a liquid combination of butter, honey, and spices that adds a ton of flavor and texture to drinks. This spiced honey-butter cordial was mostly lost to the sands of time until 2006 when modern tiki titan Jeff "Beachbum" Berry popularized it at his Latitude 29 bar in New Orleans — one of the best tiki bars in the United States.

While the Pearl Diver is the classic way to use gardenia mix, the Hidden Harbor tiki bar in Pittsburgh uses it to make its Kona Coffee Grog. The Pittsburgh bar uses a honey-maple gardenia mix along with Kona coffee and two types of rum to create a tiki drink for the winter months.

Brown Butter Manhattan

The Manhattan is a classic cocktail that definitely isn't off-limits when it comes to modification. In fact, many modern mixologists see the combination of whiskey, sweet vermouth, and bitters as a jumping-off point for their own signature cocktails. In Difford's Guide, an essential craft cocktail resource, there are more than 30 variations on the Manhattan, including a Red Manhattan made with red wine and a Breakfast Manhattan that's been infused with orange marmalade. It seems like one of the few rules is to make sure there's a good whiskey in a Manhattan.

At Lady Jaye in Seattle, it has used a brown butter fat wash to elevate the Manhattan, giving it a smooth, velvety mouthfeel. The result is a drink that evokes a hot buttered rum cocktail, but without the heaviness that comes with using a butter-based batter. An even more decadent Manhattan from Lady Jaye uses rye whiskey that's been washed with Wagyu beef fat.

Hot Buttered Zombie

The Zombie is a classic cocktail invented in 1934 by Don the Beachcomber and it's known for being pretty potent. Made with three kinds of rum, lime, grapefruit juice, and a couple of spicy syrups, you might not think of the Zombie as an ideal candidate for butter-fication, which is the technical term for adding butter. However, it does have a lot in common with the hot buttered rum cocktail. Both drinks are very rum-forward. The batter for hot buttered rum includes sugar, cinnamon, nutmeg, and cloves. Likewise, the Zombie calls for cinnamon-flavored Don's Mix syrup and falernum, which is a clove-flavored concoction.

At the now-defunct Butchers & Barbers restaurant in Hollywood California, barman Avery Underhill showed it's possible to bridge the gap between hot buttered rum and the Zombie by adding cinnamon butter to the batter. The hot drink also forgoes butter-curdling citrus juice but retains the flavor of grapefruit through the use of Pamplemousse liqueur. The result is a high-octane drink that splits the difference between old-school cocktails and tiki drinks.

Pearl Diver's Punch

Tiki icon Don the Beachcomber was known for his secret recipes, and these were all kept in Don's head and never formally published. The only time they were ever shared was when the bartenders at Don's establishments had to be trained. Even many of don's bartenders didn't know what was in some of the syrups, cordials, and other mixers they were using. For example, a cocktail might call for half an ounce of Don's Mix No. 2 or a garnish of Don's Spices No. 3.

While some of those recipes have been lost to history, Don's butter-based Gardenia Mix has been reformulated by tiki entrepreneur Jeff "Beachbum" Berry. To make it, honey, unsalted butter, cinnamon syrup, allspice dram, and vanilla syrup are heated in a saucepan and whisked until smooth. The most iconic use for Gardenia Mix is in the Pearl Diver tiki drink, which is essentially a cold buttered rum. At the now-closed Lost Lake tiki bar in Chicago, Gardenia Mix was emulated with a butter fat wash to create the bar's Mystery Gardenia cocktail.

Lazy Sunday

In recent years, we've seen a lot of pop-up bars that showcase wacky concepts. In New York City, we've seen a Star Wars pop-up bar and a LEGO-themed pop-up bar. In Los Angeles, a recent pop-up bar was completely dedicated to the work of Will Ferrell. These bars may be driven by wacky concepts and built partly for generating buzz on Instagram, but that doesn't mean they aren't fun.

Some pop-up bars are a way for established businesses to have fun with a unique concept. At the neighborhood restaurant Sunday in Brooklyn in New York City, a seasonal pop-up bar called Snowday in Brooklyn features over-the-top winter decorations and winter-themed cocktails. The Lazy Sunday was one recent cocktail highlight that showcased a brown butter-washed rum blend. As over-the-top as the Snowday in Brooklyn decorations, this cocktail calls for brown butter washing a blend of three different rums, pimento dram, and Velvet Falernum. The fat-washed rum blend is then mixed with a sarsaparilla-apple cordial and Lustau Palo Cortado sherry.

The Headless Horseman

Is there another spice blend that's inspired as many memes as pumpkin spice?

To be fair, pumpkin spice is great any time of year, and if you're looking to make a pumpkin spice cocktail, pumpkin butter is your turnkey solution. Not made with any dairy, pumpkin butter is a kind of preserve that is typically made with pumpkin purée, sugar, cinnamon, and nutmeg. It should be easy to find pumpkin butter in your local grocery store or online. You can also make it yourself at home with minimal effort.

As a cocktail ingredient, pumpkin butter brings a ton of flavor and texture. In The Headless Horseman cocktail, you can totally pair it with bourbon, triple sec, lemon juice, and an egg white. The result is a hearty cocktail that is as comforting as lying under a fleece blanket in front of a crackling fire. That's even better than a pumpkin spice meme.

Gingered Pumpkin and Rum Cocktail

When we asked mixologist Johnny Swet to make us a pumpkin cocktail for fall, his inspiration came from the Caribbean. Cuisines in the region often combine pumpkin and sweet potato with baking spices like ginger, nutmeg, and cinnamon. Add in the fact that rum comes from the Caribbean and Angostura bitters is a product of Trinidad, and you've got some essential building blocks for a Caribbean-inspired pumpkin cocktail.

Pumpkin butter is the one ingredient in this cocktail that ties together all the different spices and flavors of our Gingered Pumpkin and Rum Cocktail. There's no need to treat pumpkin butter differently than any of the other ingredients. Simply add it along with the other ingredients and ice to a shaker. Then, shake well and strain into an ice-filled rocks glass. Grate nutmeg over the top and garnish with an orange twist before serving or enjoying it yourself. This cocktail is also great for pre-batching, which is a smart move ahead of posting a holiday party.