Liquor 101: Glass Rinsing
A few of the recipes we’ve featured recently have called for washing–otherwise known as rinsing–the glass. Last Friday, for instance, the No Jacket Required involved an absinthe wash. Earlier last week, the Vespa called for washing the gin with olive; since we didn’t quite know what they meant, we rinsed the glass with olive brine instead.
It’s popped up enough that we thought it might be worth spending a post focusing on it.
Rinsing the glass has been around for a long time, though up until recently it really only came up when making a Sazerac. It’s been rare enough that it’s not even mentioned in the ‘cocktail techniques’ sections of any of our cocktail books. But, as our own posts show, it’s a little trick that’s on the rise, as bartenders increasingly apply it to add an unexpected twist to their drinks.
How do you rinse?
Just before shaking or stirring, add a small amount–about half a teaspoon–of the required liquor to the bottom of the empty glass into which the cocktail will be poured. Slowly swirl it around the entire inside of the glass, creating a thin coating that should stick a bit to the sides of the glass. Discard whatever collects at the bottom of the glass.
It’s a great way to add just a small amount of a flavor element to a drink. It’s particularly used with ingredients that have a strong flavor or provoke a strong reaction. Rinsing is what you do when you want a flavor to be noticeably present, but not to take over.
That, of course, is what’s going on with the absinthe in a Sazerac. It doesn’t take much absinthe for it to make itself known, and much more than that is too much for many people. A rinse is the perfect way to hit that balance of enough and not too much.
One of our earliest uses of the rinse is in our White Negroni. As the name suggests, the drink is intended to be mostly clear, but we discovered that the drink was a bit too harsh to the taste and to the eye if we used only clear liquors. So we added a wash of red Lillet, which brought just the slight blush and hint of fruitiness we were looking for.
Because a little bit goes a long way with these liquors, a rinse is an especially good way to add fernet or absinthe. The same goes for smoky spirits like Scotch or mezcal. As we think about it, a rinse might be the best use of the extremely minty creme de menthe we bought for our Christmas drinks.
No, really. Why rinse? How is it different from adding ‘a splash’?
We were curious about whether they’d be any discernible difference between washing the glass and adding a small splash to the mixing glass; so we conducted a couple of experiments, making both a Sazerac and a Maximilian Affair two different ways.
The Maximilian Affair, by the way, is a mezcal drink which was one of our wedding cocktails. Over time, though, we’ve found ourselves shifting away from mezcal to the tequila, to tone down the smokiness. Going without smoke completely, though, didn’t seem quite right; so we’ve usually added just a dash of mezcal.
For the sake of our experiment, we made a Max with that dash of mezcal in the mixing glass, and another one with a mezcal wash. Similarly, we made one Sazerac with the usual absinthe wash, and another one with a similar amount of absinthe simply added to the glass.
With the Sazerac, the flavor of the two drinks was similar, but the washed one smelled much more notably of absinthe. With the Max, the smoky smell was also stronger, and the drink even tasted more smoky. The upshot from this small sample is that, if you think of drinking a cocktail as a multi-sensory experience, washing makes a stronger impression than adding the same liquor to the mix (though still a subtle one). Indeed, we found ourselves asking whether we should be using the wash more frequently, rather than adding a dash of this or that to the mix.
The Homburg Cocktail Recipe
When I was hanging out at the One Eight Distilling tasting room bar on my Ivy City distillery crawl, Vince, the One Eight bartender, introduced me to this idea of spicing up a Manhattan with a fernet wash. He calls the drink a Fedora. I’ve since discovered that there’s already a quite different 19th century cocktail that goes by that name. To honor Vince’s intent while distinguishing his drink from the classic, I’ve taken to calling it by a different hat. If you order it from Vince, though, it’d probably be best to call it a Fedora.
- 2 oz rye whiskey
- 1/2 oz sweet vermouth (or up to 1 oz, depending on your whiskey and your vermouth)
- 1 dash aromatic bitters
- fernet wash
- Rinse a cocktail glass with fernet.
- Stir the other ingredients in a mixing glass with ice until the ice is noticeably melted.
- Strain into the fernet-rinsed glass.