Alexandria, Va. First you cook the bacon, remove the fat and tear it into pieces. It sounds like the start of a nice breakfast, but it’s actually the first part of mixologist Adam Seger’s Baconcello recipe. The next step is steeping the bacon in vodka for 72 hours.
Bacon-infused spirits and other so-called “carnivorous cocktails” are quirky options on the menus of some cutting-edge bars these days, and with the introduction this May of a mass-produced product called Bakon Vodka, flesh-flavored spirits are beginning to nudge their way into the mainstream drinking scene.
Seger, general manager, mixologist and sommelier of Chicago bar/restaurant Nacional 27, is part of a multitasking breed of barkeep that likes to incorporate culinary techniques into drinks. Bacon is the most popular meat-in-a-glass, but Seger has also made a ham-and-cheese cocktail, while renowned mixologist Todd Thrasher has experimented with foie gras and lamb.
Seger says that savory drinks follow cooking logic. “You use alcohol to deglaze a pan when you cook, so it makes sense that you can inverse it,” he says.
To taste Thrasher’s BLT cocktail, you have to head to his speakeasy PX in Alexandria. Can’t find it? That’s because there’s no sign and you have to knock on an imposing door to get in.
On a recent summer night, we entered and found Jayson Smith manning the bar, doling out the BLT — a drink full of mind-bending, taste bud-tingling turns. A huge ice cube, made with lettuce water, anchors a glass rimmed with bacon salt. Clear tomato water and bacon-infused vodka are mixed and poured over the lettuce cube.
Thrasher also makes an off-the-menu special called “MacGriddle,” which tastes like a McGriddle from McDonald’s. This one mixes the bacon vodka with cream, maple syrup, a whole egg and confectioner’s sugar. Smith warned, “It coats your palate” and he was right: It’s very sweet and good as a one-off dessert drink.
Thrasher echoes Seger when he talks about his overall mixology inspiration.
“I love food, I love cooking, but the limitations of a bar have been alcohol and just alcohol,” he says. “I found the limitations of being a bartender, for lack of a better word, limiting. So I started looking through cookbooks to find inspiration.”
What started Thrasher’s engine when it comes to carnivorous cocktails was reading about how famed chef and author Auguste Escoffier poached foie gras (duck or goose liver) in Armagnac (grape brandy) in the late 1880s and then used the fat-washed spirit to flavor sauces.
“That’s how the whole situation started for me,” he says. “That’s when I started thinking about things other than what a bartender is supposed to use.”
The new commercial product Bakon Vodka, launched by three friends in Seattle, seems as far from the barroom experimentations of Seger and Thrasher as artisanal bacon is to a jar of Bacon Bits.
The most obvious reason? Bakon isn’t made with real bacon.
One of the owners, Sven Liden, explains: “After a lot of testing and figuring out shelf-life and other issues, we decided that an infusion was too complicated and messy. The upside is that it’s vegan and gluten-free.”