Among whiskey fans, chasing down scarce and unusual releases — and paying astonishing prices for the pleasure — has practically become a sport. In his new book “Hacking Whiskey: Smoking, Blending, Fat Washing and Other Whiskey Experiments,” writer Aaron Goldfarb offers another route to rare whiskey experiences: the DIY approach.
Goldfarb’s book includes formulas for blending your own “Poor Man’s Pappy,” finishing whiskey in mini-barrels seasoned with everything from sherry to fish sauce, and infusing booze with the flavors of bacon, brisket, and peanut butter. On Thursday, Goldfarb will talk about “Whiskey Hacking” at a sold-out dinner at Harvest restaurant in Cambridge as part of its “The Book and the Cook” dinner series. For the dinner, Harvest chef Tyler Kinnett is creating a tasting menu that incorporates whiskey. Each course will be paired with a cocktail inspired by the book.
Q. Where did the whole concept of whiskey hacking originate?
A. We’ve reached a point of time in whiskey where the really famous, sexy stuff, like Pappy (Van Winkle) has gotten prohibitively expensive if you can even find it. So the question is, how to still do something one-of-a-kind and fun? At the most basic level, dudes at home have started making their own blends, started adding their own wine finishes and whatnot. They started posting about these things on Reddit, Facebook, and other places like that.
Q. Are amateurs really coming up with products that compare with the rare, expensive whiskeys in flavor?
A. I wrote about this guy in San Diego who made an amateur blend called California Gold that became a sensation. It was selling for $200 on the secondary market. Likewise, for the past decade bartenders have been trying to figure out how to coax new flavors out of whiskey, whether that is through fat-washing or smoking cocktails or what not. Then the final step would be distilleries trying to figure out how they can hack whiskey. You open a whiskey distillery today and how the hell are you ever going to do stuff better than Wild Turkey or Buffalo Trace? You’re not, but you can make something more interesting than those guys by hacking your whiskey, by putting it in a cold brew soaked coffee barrel, or putting it in a cognac barrel — stuff that the big boys would never attempt to do. It’s kind of cool.
Q. These sound like the same guys who might be brewing their own beer. But you can’t exactly distill your own whiskey.
A. Not exactly. I’ve met some people in Brooklyn distilling in their backyards. It’s less dangerous than you probably think, but it’s still not something I’d want to do or my wife would allow me to do. Distilling still takes equipment and time and fire and whatnot. Whereas blending two bottles together, you can do in front of your television set and have a new whiskey 10 minutes later.
Q. What’s a good entry-level hack?
A. Anyone can blend. You dump the five whiskeys you own in your house together and try to make something. But, you know, that’s not quite as fun as getting a tiny barrel and soaking it with, I don’t know, sherry or port and putting a whiskey in there. Now you have a port-finished Wild Turkey or rum-finished Buffalo Trace, a product that literally doesn’t exist. Something like that’s really easy.
Q. How does fat-washing transform whiskey?
A. Everyone knows how you infuse say cinnamon or watermelon into vodka when you’re in college. But how do you infuse something that’s fatty? A meat, butter, dairy. You add the rendered fat of these things. Then when you freeze it, the fat separates from the alcohol because the alcohol can’t freeze. A lot of cocktail geeks are almost over fat washing now, which is kind of funny to me, whereas a lot of people who are reading my book have never even heard that term or have never experienced a fat-washed cocktail. It’s a really easy thing to do. You kind of just have to start thinking what savory flavors, what culinary flavors might work with an alcohol.
Q. At the Harvest dinner, you’re making a cocktail called “Uncrustable.” What’s in it?
A. It’s from a bar called Cunard Tavern in Boston. It’s a peanut butter infused, fat-washed bourbon with essentially a raspberry jelly syrup. It tastes like a peanut butter and jelly sandwich. That’s going to be the dessert cocktail with ice cream.
Q. If cocktail geeks have moved on from fat washing, what’s next?
A. As someone who writes about alcohol every day, I keep hearing two things in New York: simple cocktails are back in and low-alcohol cocktails are back in. I feel so much that this is people trying to convince themselves of these things. Simple cocktails were never out of style. The gin and tonic has always been popular. The martini has always been popular. At the same time, I’m still seeing complex cocktails on menus and there’s nothing wrong with that.Michael Floreak can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.