Nashville Takes on Bacon Bourbon

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This Christmas I made my annual trek home to Nashville, a surprisingly cool town, even if it's hosting the first national tea party convention next month. Nashville's big enough to catch national trends but sufficiently off the grid to have its own local quirks. And if it's not typically at the forefront of style, when it catches up, it usually puts a creative spin on things.

Take speakeasies. What's been going on for a few years in New York only recently took root in Nashville, with last spring's opening of Patterson House, near Music Row. It's got all the usual speakeasy accoutrements: ice crafted with OCD levels of care; handmade bitters; black-vested bartenders; a no-standing policy. But it also has a few local twists, most notably, bacon-infused bourbon.

I expected it to taste greasy and salty; instead, it was dry and smoky, with a hint of meat.

Patterson House isn't the first place in the country to make bacon-infused bourbon--New York's PDT has been doing it for almost two years. But it's still a novelty, and a decidedly Nashville one. First, you fry up several thick slabs of bacon. Keeping the pan on the fire, you remove the meat and pour in a few cups of bourbon--Patterson House uses Four Roses--and stir. Then you set the mix aside to cool. As the temperature drops, the fat congeals, creating a thick film on top of the liquor. Once it's done, you cut a hole in the grease, pour out the liquid, et voila!

I expected it to taste greasy and salty; instead, it was dry and smoky, with a hint of meat. It also had more of a bite than regular Four Roses; I have no idea about its proof, but I wouldn't be surprised if the infusion process boiled off some of the water content, leaving a more concentrated quaff behind. The meat and smoke also overwhelmed the bourbon's sweetness, making me wonder what it would taste like if they'd used an even sweeter whiskey, like Jack Daniels--though, to be fair, the infusion is designed for an Old Fashioned, in which the bacon flavors balance against sugar syrup.

The process, technically called fat-washing, seems to be catching on. Brooklyn Brewery trotted out a fat-washed beer at a recent tasting dinner, and the Internet is full of recipes for fat-washing all sorts of liquor at home. Assuming the fad for all things bacon continues, expect to see more bars offering their own meat-infused potables in 2010. And then for once, maybe Nashville can be at the head of the pack for something other than right-wing loonies.

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Clay Risen is an editor at The New York Times, and is the author of A Nation on Fire: America in the Wake of the King Assassination. He has written for The New Republic, Smithsonian, and The New York Times Sunday Magazine.

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