Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Bacon, Bacon, Bacon...BACON!!!

While there has certainly been a fair amount of talk over the last few years about bacon and its related products...some for good reason (artisanal/gourmet bacon and pork products, ie. Nueske's)...some questionable (Bakon vodka)...and others definitely not so much (Jones Bacon Soda)...the cocktail has been one particular focal point.  Those in the bar and at home have taken to creating tipples full of fatty goodness, often with varying ranges of success, at least in my experience.  It therefore comes as no surprise that with the fast approaching Baconfest Chicago, a bacon cocktail contest sponsored by the Chicago Reader has surfaced for enthusiasts to showcase their stuff, as written by the Reader's lead restaurant critic Mike Sula....

Baconfest 2012 tickets sold out last month within minutes, but you can win a pair by submitting to a bacon cocktail challenge to be judged by myself and esteemed mixologists Mike Ryan of Sable and Stephen Cole of Barrelhouse Flat.

Finalists will mix their cocktails at Sable for the panel of judges on April 8—Easter Sunday—starting at 2 PM. For the record, while I know Ryan and Cole are more bullish on the matter, I believe cocktails are one of those rare things that bacon does not, in fact, make better. I'm going to be hard to please. So bring it, if you will.

Contest rules:
-Deadline: April 2 at noon.
-Must be an original recipe.
-Must use bacon as an ingredient—bacon vodka, pork stock, etc are not applicable.
-Recipe must be measured in fluid ounces.
-Recipe must have a name.
-Recipes that have ingredients which are originally produced (i.e. smoked cherries, syrups, etc) must include recipes for those ingredients

The winner wins a pair of tickets to the festival on Saturday, April 14

I simply could not resist and got cranking on an idea.  The conundrum being, too much bacon and it might easily be overkill, while not enough obviously misses the point of falling within the real bacon realm.  The first idea that came to mind, fat washing, was certainly not new or novel, but can be well implemented given the right components.  Most cocktails I have had which used this technique involved either bourbon or rum, but I chose to go a slightly different route with scotch whisky.  The Black Grouse, a blended scotch whisky with a touch of peat, smoke, and notes of brown sugar, seemed like a natural fit to play off the bacon.  To complement it, rather than a sweet vermouth, I went with The Bitter Truth's E**X**R.  Described as an herbal liqueur that possesses a character between that of a sweet vermouth and an amaro, E**X**R has a semisweet herbal profile with a very subtle smoky finish.  Alongside this, Ramazzotti would be a nice addition given its fragrant bitter orange profile, especially when combined with a maple syrup accented with orange blossom water.  Angostura orange bitters would offer up a fresh citrus bite to tie things nicely together...and finally the finish with a scant barspoon of homemade bacon tincture.  

Barded Black Bird
2 oz bacon fat washed Black Grouse*
1/2 oz The Bitter Truth E**X**R
1/2 oz Ramazzotti 
1/4 oz orange blossom maple syrup**
2 dashes Angostura orange bitters
1 barspoon (1/16 oz) Bacon tincture***

Combine all ingredients in a mixing glass with plenty of ice and stir until well chilled.  Strain into a chilled cocktail coupe and garnish with wide strip of orange zest.

Fat washed Black Grouse*
2 oz rendered bacon fat, from about 8 strips of hickory smoked bacon
8 oz Black Grouse 

Slowly cook bacon in a skillet until well browned, strain the rendered fat into a glass jar.  Add whisky, tighten lid, and shake well.  Let sit at room temperature for one hour, then place in the freezer until fat has congealed on the surface.  Remove from freezer, break thru the fat layer and strain the mixture thru cheesecloth.  Store whisky in the refrigerator.  

Orange blossom maple syrup**
1 oz grade B organic maple syrup
1 oz water
1/4 oz orange blossom water

Mix all ingredients together and store in the refrigerator.

Bacon tincture***
5 strips crispy cooked bacon
2 oz neutral grain spirit, 151 proof

Preheat sous vide to 170F.  Add bacon to vacuum seal bag and crumble to small pieces, then add the spirit.  Seal and place in sous vide for 3-4 hours.  Empty contents of the bag and squeeze to extract all remaining liquid from the bacon.  Strain thru a coffee filter and store in the refrigerator.

Barded Black Bird

Overall, this bacon-y cocktail went down rather well, with lingering hints of orange helping to brighten up the rich, smoky scotch and bacon base.  In my mind, it was a decent middle ground...while certainly not akin to drinking bacon, the flavor and essence was still quite noticeable.  All in all, it's probably not a drink for everyone, but this was an enjoyable endeavor nonetheless.  


So I'm a bit late on this, but post a bit of downtime and time away, here is a recap from Baconfest '12 and The Chicago Reader related to the cocktail contest.  I was fortunate enough to win among the 30+ entries...and Baconfest was solid, as usual.  A few pics:

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