Meatpaper four

Bacon, Not Stirred
The beefytini, weenicello, and other meat cocktails

by Rachel Khong
illustration by Jen and Cy de Groat

JUNE, 2008

WHEN THE TERM “MARTINI LUNCH” was coined, it referred — in all likelihood — to the vegetarian martini: a libation to be consumed alongside one’s steak, not incorporated into it. Even Jägermeister — the traditional hunters’ drink of choice — is suitable for herbivores: Contrary to popular lore, none of its 56 ingredients is elk blood.

In recent years, however, an increasing number of foolhardy souls have sought to blur the line between meat and drink. The Seattle-based Jones Soda Co. sells a “Turkey and Gravy” flavored soda, as well as a holiday season ham variety, allegedly as kosher as its latke-flavored beverage. Eschewing the ever-popular pimiento, Applebee’s, the popular casual dining restaurant chain, serves its Mucho Mary cocktail (essentially a Bloody Mary) with Slim-Jim stuffed olives. In San Francisco, salmon-stuffed olives and jerky-stuffed olives accompany martinis at Blondie’s Bar and No Grill. The Beefytini (on offer at the Circle Bar in New Orleans) is a combination of Beefeater gin, vermouth, and jerky juice (a brine and jerky mixture), a meaty twist on the dirty martini. When it found itself with an excess of pig skin, the Brooklyn restaurant Porchetta put the abundance to good use in its “pork margarita” — rimmed with pork cracklings in lieu of salt.

In August 2006, blogger Andrew Fenton shocked online epicurean circles when he unveiled the “weeniecello” — a package of Hebrew Nationals soaked for five weeks in 100-proof vodka — at the eGullet Society for Culinary Arts and Letters, an online forum. Along with vermouth and a splash of sauerkraut brine, weeniecello served as the basis of the weenie-tini, a drink that possesses, as Fenton put it, “a richness and subtle beefiness not to be found in traditional vegetarian cocktails.” Weeniecello also features prominently in Fenton’s “Take Me Out to the Ballgame” cocktail, garnished with boiled peanuts, its rim dusted with dry mustard.

Just as not all meats are created equal, some fare better than others when combined with alcohol. “The bad news,” announced Fenton, following some early experimentation, “is that a hot dog that has been soaking for weeks in alcohol tastes like a lab specimen. You remember that kid in high school biology who, for $10, took a bite of his fetal pig? He might like these.”

Time and time again, swine has proved to be the most swill-worthy meat. When the New York–based blogger-cocktailian Josh Karpf steeped four different meats in Absolut — sweet dried pork, sautéed ground pork, Italian dinner sausage, and sautéed Spam — he found jerkies to be “less than optimum,” while sausage softened the martini’s proper crispness. Concerning his Spam-laden drink, Karpf determined, “Spam doth not a martini make.” The ground pork martini, however, was a force to be reckoned with. “Not a cocktail for the pork martini dilettante,” it is a potent concoction that “packs a pork wallop.”

At its zenith, a meat cocktail almost invariably incorporates bacon. Jocelyn McAuley, who documents her culinary travails at the Brownie Points Blog, is one of many at-home bacon/vodka alchemists. She created her bacon-infused vodka by leaving fried strips of bacon and vodka to sit in a cupboard for three weeks before freezing, straining, and decanting it. She found her pale yellow vodka ideal for a martini paired with a bleu cheese–stuffed olive. It was also excellent when “poured into a spray bottle and used to spritz just a touch of smoky bacon flavor to salads, toasts, or stews.” Where many cocktails come too close to cloying, those prepared with bacon vodka maintain a savory complexity. Bacon vodka combined with date syrup in “a sweet bacon cordial” achieves an ideal marriage of flavors — the liquid version of the bacon-wrapped date.

There exists, perhaps, no greater meat cocktail success story than that of the Double Down Saloon. Home to such ingenuities as “ass juice” — the dregs of various liquor bottles combined and sold as shots — the bar boasts, on its menu, a bacon martini and bacon bloody that are popular drink choices at their Las Vegas and New York locations.

The bacon martini was invented by P. Moss, the owner of Double Down, inspired by bacon-loving employees and a personal desire to develop cocktails that made use of honest, actual ingredients. “I always found it rather pathetic that popular drinks such as the apple martini were made from chemicals and not real apples,” says Moss.

The bacon martini, in contrast, is straightforwardly executed: Strips of crisp bacon from Gatton Farms, Kentucky, are slid “carefully” into a bottle of vodka, and left to sit for 24 hours, imbuing the vodka with ideal meatiness. The vodka is strained, then incorporated into a traditional martini as usual.

As for opposition, there was none, according to Moss. “The only person who opposed the bacon idea was Porky Pig,” said Moss. “Everybody else, both staff and customers, encouraged the hell out of it.” Moss reports that only one individual has ever become sick from the drink. The customer, setting his sights on the bacon at the bottom of the bottle — as one might the worm in mescal — imbibed six bacon martinis in his quest.

“He was fine with the martinis, but that vodka-soaked bacon put him on the floor,” explained Moss.

All this meaty drinking may be an American novelty, but centuries-old eastern “cocktails” have long joined booze and meat for medicinal purposes. In Vietnam, scorpion wine — made by immersing scorpions in rice wine — is said to be a tonic for weak joints and tendons that also alleviates general fatigue. Many Thai imbibe “snake wine” as a cure-all for hair loss, farsightedness, and impotence. The wine is prepared by letting a (preferably venomous) snake soak in a jar of rice wine for months, ample time for the ethanol to deactivate the poison in protein-based snake venom.

The western world’s seemingly newfound interest in marrying meat with alcohol is unsurprising, however, when you consider one possible etymological origin of the “cocktail” itself. In fact, the original English cocktail may have been protein-based. “Cock ale” was a poultry-infused, 16th-century ale, made by combining a large, elderly rooster with sack (a dry sherry), along with raisins, cloves, mace, and other spices.

Here’s how to make it:

Recipe for “Cock ale,” from Smith’s Compleat Housewife, 1736.
Take ten gallons of ale and a large cock, the older the better. Parboil the cock, flay him, and stamp him in a stone mortar until his bones are broken (you must gut him when you flay him). Then, put the cock into two quarts of sack, and add five pounds of raisins of the sun, stoned, some blades of mace, and a few cloves. Put all these into a canvas bag, and a little before you find the ale has been working, put the bag and ale together in a vessel.

In a week or nine days bottle it up, fill the bottle just above the neck and give it the same time to ripen as other ale.

Rachel Khong lives in San Francisco but is moving to Gainesville, Florida. She makes a mean — albeit meatless — Bloody Mary.

This article originally appeared in Meatpaper Issue Four.