Once upon a time, Americans feared fat. It was the devil, and we wanted to be free of it. We took it out of our milk and our cookies; we recoiled from the thought of it. Fortunately, the fat-free diet craze has ended, and bartenders have been fat-washing our cocktails ever since.
At Mace in New York City, the spice-driven bar program is filled with fatty touches. The Lavender features brown butter and vanilla-infused calvados, blueberry and lavender shrub, verjus, and Champagne. The Ginger is a shaken combination of marshmallow milk-washed bourbon, carrot acid, ginger-maple, and cider.
"The original idea was to bring flavors from cuisine around the world into cocktails, as I travel a lot and love food," said Mace co-owner and drink mastermind Nico de Soto. The French expat keeps a running file of flavor combinations he encounters on his travels that lead to his cocktail creations.
Many of those resulting cocktails are incredibly intricate, like the Turmeric, a clarified amalgamation of jalapeño-infused blanco tequila, mezcal, chicharrón, cloudy apple juice, corn milk, spices, coconut water, and lime juice.
"The turmeric one takes the longest because you have the tequila infusion with jalapeños that takes 24 hours. Once that's done, you mix that with mezcal and do a chicharrón fat wash, which takes another 24 hours," head bartender Christian Dominguez explained.
While the fat washing is going on, the team makes a coconut-spiked syrup using a blend of vanilla, coriander, cardamom, black pepper, ginger, and fennel—which needs a day to infuse, obviously. It takes another half day to blend and filter the house-made corn milk.
"Then you put everything together and that takes about another two days to filter," Dominguez said. "That's one cocktail. We have all of the other cocktails that have similar processes."
The Mace team has their prep down to a science—a must when you consider all of the moving parts for each drink. Pre-batching cocktails has become an integral part of the process.
The international bar community has taken note of the bar's efforts. This year, Mace earned the 28th spot on the World's 50 Best Bars list.
"It becomes a bit of a skill in itself to figure out how to prepare and store all of our ingredients," Dominguez said. "We have a tiny bar, but we still make it work. When you have ten-ingredient cocktails, it's not something that is easily pulled off when you have a crowd come in."
Thanks to the well-planned prep and pre-batching, when crowds do come in, they don't have to wait very long to get a cocktail. But there are downsides, too. When I arrived at Mace, the bar was out of the Turmeric, thanks to an unexpectedly busy night before. Considering the multi-day process, the bartenders can't just whip up a new batch on demand.
The Turmeric is worth returning to Mace to try when it's back in stock. Made with homemade chicharrón from Zaragoza, a Mexican market a few blocks from the bar, the cocktail came from de Soto's idea of creating a smoky tequila and mezcal milk punch.
"It lends a fatty, pork flavor that fits with the Mexican spirits like tequila and mezcal, and with the jalapeño as well," Dominguez said of the chicharrón element.
The cocktail ends up having bright and spicy citrus notes in addition to the subtle umami from the pork. That sort of balance comes into play in many of the Mace drinks.
"I think that's a theme you see a lot with our cocktails; they're very well-rounded," Dominguez said. "You have that nice savory element to balance out the drink. You see that with the marshmallow milk. It serves the same purpose, it rounds out the end of the drink. It's a much smoother finish than you get for a bourbon cocktail. You don't get that burn at the end."