One of the staples carried on the emigrant trails by the pioneers who settled the West was bacon, the salt-cured and smoked meat from pork bellies. Another staple was corn whiskey, for “medicinal purposes.”
Nearly two centuries later, their descendants combined bacon and spirits to produce today’s carnivorous-cocktail trend, with the knowing slogan, “Bacon makes everything better.” Even the mainstream-America Betty Crocker website has a step-by-step for making bacon-infused vodka (bettycrocker.com).
Which takes us to the fifth annual Sacramento Bacon Fest, Jan. 25-31 at various venues. Opening night will be at Empress Tavern, the unusual brick-walled space underneath the Crest Theatre. The homage to bacon will continue with bacon-centric meals (including bacon paella at Selland’s in East Sacramento), a tribute to actor Kevin Bacon and a bacon-themed brewery tour aboard a bus.
Debuting at this year’s porcine party be the Bacon Fest Cocktail Battle at Bottle & Barlow, the hybrid bar and barbershop along the R Street Corridor. There, co-owner and house mixologist Jayson Wilde will serve his bacon-infused cocktails and oversee a throw-down involving area bartenders who will “battle for cash with the best bacon-inspired concoctions.”
Wilde has tended bar at the nationally recognized Shady Lady Saloon in Sacramento and at the Bourbon & Branch “speakeasy” in San Francisco, which specializes in “labor-intensive drinks.”
Get your oink on from 6 to 10 p.m. Thursday, Jan. 28, at Bottle & Barlow, 1120 R St., Sacramento; 916-379-7719, bottleandbarlow.com. “Bacon-inspired” nachos will be available from the Sacramento Nacho Truck. For the full Bacon Fest schedule, go to baconfestsac.com.
Q: Aren’t meat-infused spirits counterintuitive?
A: They can be, but it depends on how you put things together. I’ve messed around with (bacon-based cocktails) for years and have had hit-and-miss luck with them. They’re a tough, tricky thing to play with because of the intensity of the meat.
Q: What’s the process?
A: There are several ways to incorporate bacon into a cocktail. One can be fat-washing, where you (pour the grease) from cooked bacon into your spirit, then freeze it. The fat solidifies and gets skimmed off (and strained out). So you have none of the oils (in the spirit) but you still get the bacon flavor. I’ve seen people use different types of bacon (including) peppered and maple-smoked.
Q: What special cocktails will you make for the throw-down?
A: I have some loose ideas, and I have a lot of input from my staff. Probably a whiskey (cocktail) with different flavor notes, and (one with) gin, chocolate and lemon oil, juicy and refreshing ($8 to $10).
Q: How many bars are competing?
A: So far we’ve got three (including the Shady Lady) and I’m hoping to get a few more in here. There’s about $1,200 available in (first-, second- and third-place) prize money, which is pretty good for making a cocktail.
Q: Is there a particular spirit that matches best with bacon?
A: Whiskies and rums tend to go better with it. You get (notes of) coffee and butterscotch and maple with those darker spirits, and everybody knows bacon and maple go together. With gin (the cocktail) could be citrusy, but it could work, and you could probably get something to work with vodka.
Q: Bacon cocktails are derring-do for most drinkers.
A: (People) should be up for an adventure. They might find something they really enjoy and not expect.
Sacramento Bacon Fest
Bacon Fest runs Jan. 25-31. For a full list of events, go to baconfestsac.com