International Bacon Day is an unofficial holiday that takes place on the first Saturday of September. But we think bacon deserves more — hence, InsideHook’s Bacon Week, a collection of stories old and new celebrating salt-cured pork (and in some cases, non-pork or even non-meat) in all its sizzling glory.
Bacon. Alcohol. Two great ideas that don’t seem to play well together, at least when it comes to infusing those disparate flavors together in a drink. Outside of the occasional bacon garnish for a Bloody Mary, you’d be hard-pressed to find a good bacon cocktail on a modern bar menu.
Still, that hasn’t stopped a few places from trying. “Bacon and cured meats have the same nuances that are found in herbs and botanicals that are used in cocktails,” says Chef Brad Wise of the California steakhouse chain Rare Society. “Juniper, whole spices, peppercorns — all of these flavors are used in bacon and in cocktails.”
“I think there are many ways to think about bacon in cocktails, from an accentuating garnish to a bacon fat wash,” adds Colin Berger, Rare Society’s Bar Manager (see below for their bacon-garnished Old Fashioned). “I love using that [fat washing] in a variation on a Smash, with Rhubarb syrup, fresh basil, bacon fat-washed bourbon and a touch of lemon juice.”
It’s here where we should define fat washing — that’s the technique where you allow rendered fat (from, say, a pound of bacon) to sit with alcohol in a heat-resistant vessel to infuse. Let it rest for a bit, then freeze the liquid overnight to resolidify those fats, and then strain that solidified fat from the spirit. “That leaves behind the flavor and a silky texture when done properly,” says Freddie Sarkis, Chief Cocktail Officer, of Liquor Lab in Nashville.
Sarkis actually remembers a time when bacon was a more common element in the drinks world. “The bacon trend of the early 2000s saw bacon essentially as a salt replacement, and it certainly made its way into cocktails,” he says. “And how could it not? Being sweet and savory, it adds depth of flavor and certainly has a novelty appeal.” Besides fat-washing and garnishes for Bloody Mary riffs, Sarkis thinks extracting rendered bacon into alcohol and using it as a component in bitters is a good way to “add a little extra porky goodness to a martini, or a little savoriness to a Manhattan.” His bacon-y bitters make an appearance in his recipe for a Savory Bacon Sour, below.
It’s not like the flavor of bacon is unwelcome. “Umami and fats are always interesting flavors to work with,” suggests Keeper’s Heart / O’Shaughnessy Distilling Co’s Beverage Director Pip Hanson, who offers a bacon- and maple-enhanced whiskey tipple below. “But fats and oils are not common ingredients in cocktails, since they will usually separate absent some kind of emulsifier. That said, umami can be a welcome, complex enhancement to the usual bitter/sweet/sour formulas — it’s much more interesting than just fruit juices, can be sort of uninspiring after a while and add too much sugar for some palates.”
Another alternative is using bacon to make a syrup for your cocktails. “A maple and bacon simple syrup is a popular choice,” says Miranda Hodge, Digital Content Producer at ReserveBar. “But think of other more daring combinations: What about a margarita that is made with a spicy bacon and jalapeño agave syrup? Or a daiquiri made with a candied bacon rim?”
For those who don’t want to spend time making syrups or bitters (or fat-washing), Hodge suggests looking into ready-made bacon-infused spirits like Ol’ Major Bacon Bourbon and Sugarlands Maple Bacon Moonshine, both available on ReserveBar. “With those, you could make a Bacon Boulevardier — equal parts Ol’ Major, vermouth and Campari — or a Maple Bacon Bloody Mary for brunch, where you sub Sugarlands in place of vodka.”
Long story short, it is possible to add a little bacon sizzle to your cocktails. Below, a few recipes to help get you started:
Via Pip Hanson, Beverage Director of Keeper’s Heart / O’Shaughnessy Distilling Co
Prep Time: Overnight
- 2 oz bacon-washed Keeper’s Heart Irish + Bourbon
- .5 oz smoked maple syrup
- 3 dashes Fee’s Brothers barrel-aged bitters peated malt whiskey (optional, for garnish)
“Keeper’s Heart works well with salinity in general, so bacon is a natural complement to the rich herbal and spice notes,” as Hanson notes. Stir all ingredients well with ice and strain over a large rock in an old-fashioned glass. Garnish with a mist of peated whiskey over the top of the drink.
Savory Bacon Sour
Via Freddie Sarcus, Liquor Lab
Savory Bacon Sour
Prep Time: 5 mins
- 1 oz London dry gin infused with thyme
- 1 oz aquavit
- .75 oz caraway brown sugar syrup
- .75 oz lemon
- A pinch of salt and pepper
- 2 dashes of bacon-infused Peychaud’s bitters
- Egg whit
Combine ingredients in a shaker and fill with ice. Shake vigorously for 20 to 30 seconds. Strain back into half of the shaker and discard ice. Shake again (without ice) for 10 seconds. Strain straight up in a coupe glass. Garnish with a dusting of crushed-up bacon, thyme, brown sugar, and salt mixture.
The Rare Old Fashioned
Via Rare Society
The Rare Old Fashioned
Prep Time: Overnight
- 2 oz dry-aged, fat-washed bourbon*
- 1/4 oz Oleo-saccharum**
- 6 dashes Angostura bitters
- Bacon for garnish
Combine ingredients in a large mixing glass. Add ice to the top and stir at least 15 revolutions. Strain over fresh ice and top with garnish — 1 rosemary sprig, 2 Maraschino cherries, 1 slice bacon (cut bacon into one-inch squares, fry until browned but still pliable). To assemble, wrap one cherry with one square of bacon and skewer with the exposed end of the rosemary sprig.
* Fat-washed bourbon: 500 mls Bourbon, 5 oz fat from a dry-aged steak (Editor’s note: Or, here, you can use your bacon fat-washing skills if that’s the flavor profile you prefer). Pour 500 ml of bourbon into a large mason jar (be sure there is enough room for the liquified fat). Use an 86-90 proof bourbon as anything hotter will overwhelm the flavor of your fat wash. Add fat to a medium saucepan and heat until completely rendered. Pour the fat into the jar with the bourbon and close the lid before shaking well. Allow the jar to sit out at room temperature for at least a couple of hours. Transfer to the freezer and freeze until fat solidifies at the top of the jar.
** Oleo-saccharum: 3-4 medium-sized lemons, 3 medium-sized oranges, enough sugar in the raw to cover peels (refined sugar works just fine as well), 2 large sprigs rosemary. Peel the citrus into a small container. We are using the peels here, not the fruit itself. It is important that there is not a lot of extra space in the container as you want as much contact as possible with all of the ingredients. Combine the citrus peels, whole rosemary, and sugar, mixing thoroughly to ensure the citrus is entirely coated in sugar. You will begin to see results in as few as two hours, but I recommend letting the mixture combine for as long as your bourbon does.
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