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The practice of imparting the flavor of something heavy into a lighter liquid is centuries old. Ancient Indian healers did it with botanicals; early Christian monks did it with bitters. But the process is getting new attention as part of the craze to put all things food into all things drink.
Enter the bacon-flavored cocktail, as explored by Josh Berner, the bar manager at Ripple in Washington, D.C., and other au courant mixologist types in cities like New Orleans and New York.
Unlike the potentially dangerous liquid nitrogen drink, the fat-infused cocktail is actually something you can pull off at home. "Even my girlfriend, who doesn't cook, can pull it off," Berner says. (Sorry, girlfriend.)
What it takes to pull off a bacon-flavored mescal for your cocktail base — or an olive oil-flavored vodka or a sesame oil infused gin, for that matter, is pretty simple, as Berner shows us in the slide show above: a basic pot, a low heat, a steady stirring arm, a freezer, and some time and glassware. And yes, he does offer cocktail classes if you need to see it up close.
So how does it work? The magic happens when you heat the fat, says Kantha Shelke, food chemist and spokesperson for the Institute of Food Technologists. Fat contains lots of flavor molecules, but it takes a bit of prodding to release them. Remember that old Maillard reaction? "Heat volatilizes the aromatic compounds — warms them up and releases the fat matrix," she says.
Those flavor molecules dissolve into the alcohol when they're heated and stirred together, she says.
Once the fat is mixed with the alcohol, let it cool a bit, then pour it into a freezerproof container. Freeze overnight, and the fat will rise to the surface, effectively trapping those volatile flavor compounds in the alcohol, Shelke says. Strain off the fat in the morning, and you've got your flavor-infused base.
The process gives the cocktail a slightly meaty taste and mouth feel called umami — a flavor intense enough that a little bit will go a long way toward satisfaction, scientifically speaking.
So once you master your base, try your hand at mixing the alcohol with some other flavors that Berner is featuring on his menu right now.
United Colors of Basilton
1 ounce purple basil syrup (2 parts water, 1 part sugar, handful of purple basil, heated, then cooled to room temperature)
1 ounce light white wine
1/4 ounce Green Chartreuse
1 1/2 ounces olive oil-washed vodka
Combine ingredients with ice in a cocktail shaker. Stir, strain into chilled martini glass. Garnish with a candied lemon.
Chile Manteca y Dulce
5-10 drops citric acid solution
1 1/2 ounces of cayenne pepper toasted pecan syrup
1 1/2 ounces bacon-washed mescal (Berner uses Beneva)
Combine ingredients with ice in a cocktail shaker. Shake, strain into chilled coupe glass. Garnish with a pecan.
Play It Sam
1 ounce date reduction (poach dates in water with a little sugar, reduce)
1/4 ounce aquavit
1 1/2 ounces sesame-washed gin
Combine ingredients with ice in a cocktail shaker. Shake, strain into rocks glass with ice. Garnish with a lemon twist.