“Ten bartenders working from the same recipe script will give you 10 different drinks,” says Mark Tay. He would know. The 45-year-old hospitality industry veteran – affectionately referred to as Uncle Mark – has launched drinking holes such as Nektar, one of Singapore’s earliest craft cocktail bars, as well as raised a generation of outstanding bartenders, both in Singapore and abroad.
These days, as head of hospitality at Door XXV, a private bar at Spectrum, a shared workspace provider for innovators and technology-driven firms, Tay continues to flip the script on popular cocktails. What makes his Old Fashioned different, for instance, is his special bourbon-based, bacon-infused fat wash. Popularised in 2007 by beverage director Don Lee of New York City’s PDT, fat washing is a clever cocktail technique that adds savoury flavour to spirits.
It is influenced by an old perfumery method of infusing oil such as bacon grease into alcohol and then freezing the liquid, so the fat rises to the surface. Tay’s idea to use fat washing is reminiscent of his commis chef dayswhen he worked alongside the late French culinary legend Michel Roux over 17 years ago at The Waterside Inn, Roux’s three-Michelin-starred restaurant.
“Here was a man who had lots of Michelin stars to his name, but he still found the time to teach me how to make a classic coq au vin. As we waited to collect roast drippings for thickening the roux, we would talk about the menu or just how our day went.” Fat washing is an arduous and laborious process, and can easily be omitted since the modern bartender has an arsenal of ready-made liqueurs, aromatic bitters and syrups at his disposal. But Tay wouldn’t have it any other way.
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To make his fat wash, Tay begins by broiling and frying bacon strips before adding a splash of bourbon to deglaze the pan and allowing the mixture to steep in bourbon for up to five days. As the meat loses its colour, the spirit takes on a darker hue, mirroring the steady transfer of savoury flavour compounds from bacon to bourbon. Coagulated bacon fat, which rises to the top of the liquid, is filtered through a sieve and cheese cloth, leaving behind a bold bourbon that retains the savoury notes of bacon.
Almost primitive in its pleasures, this union of booze and savoury oil demands way more legwork than what it would take to make the classic Old Fashioned with a swift swirl of bourbon, sugar and Angostura bitters. But this Peranakan guy, who grew up watching his grandmother make rempah from scratch, believes in the magic of time and continues to invest hours to produce unusual cocktail ingredients such as sterculia-infused rum, citrus tobacco and wolfberry gomme. Some might call him a relic in an era where convenience is prioritised above all else and processes are optimised to facilitate the hectic pace of modern life. But
Tay thinks otherwise.
“People today are in too much of a rush to get from point A to point B. Some rush to get their meal over and done with while others spend too much time trying to have a quick drink and a quick buzz. They don’t spend as much time enjoying the process of getting to that point.”
“People today are in too much of a rush to get from point A to point B. They don’t spend as much time enjoying the process of getting to that point.”
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