Savory flavors are all the rage these days, and mixologists have discovered an innovative way to get them into cocktails: Just add meat. Cocktails made with animal proteins don’t have to be outlandish. At Red Robin, a burger concept with 481 locations in the United States, master mixologist Donna Ruch created the Beam-N-Bacon Boozy Milkshake ($4.79). Made with Jim Beam Maple Bourbon, caramel and vanilla soft-serve ice cream, the shake is topped with bacon bits and a strip of candied bacon, adding sweet and savory flavors to the dessert drink. Designed to pair with the Southern Charm burger ($13.99), which features a brown sugar-glazed beef patty and candied bacon, the autumnal shake has sold well. Ruch attributes the drink’s success to the recent upsurge in Bourbon cocktails and the ongoing popularity of bacon.
Meaty mixology can also skew toward the experimental. “A lot of what cocktailing has become for me is trying to find new ways to balance out drinks,” says Dane Nakamura, head bartender at Washington, D.C.’s Range and Aggio restaurants. The Vegan Sacrifice ($13), made with Great King Street blended Scotch, ginger cayenne syrup and a “meat ice” popsicle, embraces that philosophy. “The meat ice is made from a consommé that combines the juice from San Marzano tomatoes with leftover cured meats, extra cuts of meat, bones, some bacon, and tons of different spices and herbs,” he explains. “You end up with a
delicious, savory, beautifully clear consommé that you can freeze.” As a guest stirs the cocktail, the frozen consommé slowly melts and blends with the peaty whisky. “Having a
hickory-forward meat flavor going into the cocktail creates this strangely refreshing drink,” Nakamura says, noting that the unusual cocktail has become quite popular. “We used to limit it to only 15 a night, but we had to take the limitation off.”
Nakamura also uses the meat consommé as the base for his Bloody Mary ($13). “We mix the consommé with Tito’s Handmade vodka, Bittermens Hellfire bitters and a lemon wheel,” he explains. “You don’t have all the grittiness of tomato juice. Instead of Worcestershire sauce and Old Bay, it already has that umami flavor and the herbs and spices from chef Bryan Voltaggio’s barbecue rubs.” Unlike the Vegan Sacrifice, the Bloody Mary is largely a hand-sell. “The drink usually gets reordered once somebody orders it, but it’s just something you have to try first,” he says.
Combining meat and spirits isn’t an entirely new trend. “People have been dealing with meat and protein in spirits forever,” says Ron Cooper, founder of Del Maguey mezcal. His Pechuga mezcal ($200 a 750-ml. bottle) is a historic style produced in Oaxaca according to traditional methods.
The spirit is triple-distilled, and during the final distillation, wild mountain apples, plums, and other fruits and nuts are added to the still—and a whole chicken breast is hung inside it. “The chicken flavor is so subtle,” Cooper says, noting that the meat balances out the fruit. “It adds saltiness and a fatty mouth feel more than a chicken flavor.”
The Spanish restaurant Jaleo, part of chef José Andrés’ ThinkFoodGroup, has offered Del Maguey Pechuga for years ($35 a 1.5-ounce pour, served neat). “We’ve known Ron for a long time, and we always loved his product,” says ThinkFoodGroup research and development director Rubén García. “Two years ago, we went to the little village where they produce Pechuga, and I said, ‘What happens if we put Jamón Ibérico in the still instead of a chicken breast?’” ThinkFoodGroup sent Cooper a leg of the appellation-protected Spanish ham, made from black Iberian pigs that are fed on acorns, and the resulting small-batch Del Maguey Ibérico mezcal ($200 a 750-ml. bottle) launched last year.
ThinkFoodGroup received the entire first batch of the mezcal ($39 a 1.5-ounce pour), which has become a major draw. “A lot of people come in and ask for it,” García says. “There is such a high component of fat in the Ibérico ham that it melts into the liquid and gets emulsified with the alcohol, so when you taste or smell it, you get all the smokiness and a little bit of nuttiness.” The meaty spirit won the “Best New Product” award at the 2014 Tales of the Cocktail Spirited Awards, and Cooper intends to keep making a new batch every fall. “For almost 20 years, everyone has asked me which mezcal is my favorite,” Cooper says. “I always said, ‘How can you say which one of your kids is your favorite?’ But finally, with Ibérico, I have a favorite. It’s just so fun to drink.”