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Wednesday, December 4, 2013

A vote against bacon-infused bourbon

Posted By on 12.04.13 at 02:36 PM

Bourbon with melted bacon fat floating on top
  • Julia Thiel
  • Bourbon with melted bacon fat floating on top
The first time I made bacon-infused bourbon, it was absolutely awful—one of the worst things I've ever tasted, no exaggeration. I'd come across a recipe for it in The New Old Bar, a cocktail recipe book from the Hearty Boys that I experimented with after I was sent a review copy in February, and it looked pretty easy to make. It wasn't.

It's not actual bacon that goes into bacon-infused bourbon, but bacon fat. The process is called fat-washing, which is slightly less unpleasant than it sounds—but only slightly. The recipe instructed me to mix the rendered fat from ten strips of bacon with a bottle of bourbon, shake it well, and let the whole thing sit in a dark cupboard for five days. I opted to test out the recipe with a much smaller batch, using about a cup of bourbon (I can't remember anymore what kind). I already had bacon fat on hand, so I just scooped out a couple spoonfuls from the container I keep in the fridge and melted it in the jar before adding the bourbon. I shook it well and then put it in a cupboard, taking it out every day to shake it.

At the end of the process, I put it into the freezer as the recipe instructed (since the fat was already solidified, though, I'm not sure it made much difference) and then strained it through a coffee filter. As soon as I opened the jar, I was overwhelmed by an awful, rancid stench. I'm not sure why I went through with filtering it—I think I had some vague hope that the bourbon left behind after I filtered out the fat wouldn't smell bad (it did). I'm even less sure why I decided that I still needed to taste it. But I did, and immediately gagged and spit it out into the sink. Then I poured the bourbon down the drain, threw away the fat, and immediately took out the trash. My place smelled like rancid fat for hours.

Bacon fat in jar, unmelted
I don't know exactly what went wrong, but I've read that having little pieces of bacon in the fat makes it spoil more quickly. I hadn't strained my bacon fat (the recipe didn't say I should), so I'm guessing that was the problem. I also noticed after doing a little research online that most recipes called for a much shorter infusion time—anywhere from a few hours to 24 hours. I thought it might be worth trying one of those recipes, but I wasn't exactly eager to repeat the experiment. Ten months later, it finally seemed like a good idea.

Melted bacon fat and Rebel Yell bourbon (why ruin the good stuff?)
  • Julia Thiel
  • Melted bacon fat and Rebel Yell bourbon (why ruin the good stuff?)
This time I melted a tablespoon or two of bacon fat in a jar, added the bourbon, shook it up, and immediately stuck it in the freezer until the next evening (I had read quite a few recipes but didn't use a specific one; most of the instructions were pretty similar). I strained it through a coffee filter like before, and there was a faint bacon-y smell, but it wasn't really unpleasant—nothing like last time.

I'd come across a recipe for a maple-bacon old-fashioned from the New York bar PDT in the course of my research and decided to make it, mostly because it was simple: two ounces of bourbon, a quarter ounce of maple syrup, and a couple dashes of Angostura bitters. It also called for an orange twist, which I skipped because I didn't have any oranges. I tasted the bacon-infused bourbon straight before mixing it into cocktails, and it wasn't very appealing: there was an overwhelming bacon flavor, followed by a bourbon aftertaste. (I realize that doesn't sound bad, but it really wasn't great.)

Bourbon and bacon fat, post-freezing
The bourbon tasted better in the cocktail—both the maple syrup and the bitters mellowed it out, and as the ice melted it became easier to drink. My friend compared the savory sweetness of the drink to chicken and waffles, and it did taste a little bit like that. Still, there was something off-putting about the bacon aroma of the drink that I couldn't get past. Maybe I was associating it with the rancid smell from before even though this bourbon wasn't at all rancid. Or maybe it's just not a pleasant smell. The cocktail tasted oddly greasy to me, even though all the bacon fat had been strained out. I read somewhere that the orange twist in the cocktail helps keep the bacon smell from becoming overwhelming, so adding the orange might help. But I won't be trying it again, so I guess I'll never know.*

Instead, I'll share my favorite recipe for bacon bourbon, which I made up myself: cook a few strips of bacon; drain the fat and reserve for cooking purposes. Pour some of your favorite bourbon into a rocks glass with a couple ice cubes (or whiskey stones, or whatever you prefer). Eat the bacon and drink the bourbon.

*If, for some reason, you do want to make bacon-infused bourbon, you might want to try it with the fat from Benton's bacon, which is often recommended for this purpose because it's extra smoky. The fat I used was from Trader Joe's apple-smoked bacon, which I like just fine but is definitely not extra smoky. I do think the bourbon would be better if it tasted more like smoke and less like weird-almost-bacon.

Julia Thiel writes about booze on Wednesdays.

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