'Tis the season for ... meat cocktails?
You can try to deny it, but over the next month or so, you're going to do a lot of eating. Rich, hearty, food that will make you sleepy. And, between the parties and family gatherings, you're probably going to drink a lot, too. Heavy, sweet drinks like egg nog and mulled wine, or brown liquors that warm up a cold, snowy night.
'Tis the season for gluttony, right? Might as well take it one step further with a meat cocktail.
We're not talking about bobbing a beef stick in your Bloody Mary, either. That's fine, but you can take the concept of drinking your meat to the next level, by literally making meat one of the core ingredients in the drink, itself.
Take the Bull Shot, for example. Pour a shot of vodka, three ounces of chilled beef bouillon, a dash of Worcestershire, Tabasco and celery salt into a cocktail shaker. Strain into a highball glass. One variation includes lemon juice and cayenne pepper, served hot.
Or the Bloody Bull, which is basically a Bloody Mary, but with four ounces of chilled beef concentrate. If you're good in the kitchen, you can make your own juice by boiling down store-bought beef juice in a sauce pan.
"Those come from old bartender bibles I've seen," says Paul Kennedy, a career bartender who works at Tonic Tavern, 2335 S. Kinnickinnic Ave., but has served in some of the finer hotels and restaurants in the country.
Yet, Kennedy admits that he's not a giant fan of the beef-based drink, and it's not the kind of cocktail that Tonic will be carrying any time soon.
"I've dabbled a little bit, but never served them from behind the bar," he says. "Personally, it's one of those things. Americans are obsessed with combinations of food and drink. It's fun but it's trendy."
As for trendy, what's really popular these days is including what bartender Joe Houghtaling calls the "fat wash," the practice of rendering the smoky flavor from bacon or ham and infusing it in alcohol. The mixture is chilled so the fatty part can be removed, leaving just a hint of the meat in the booze.
Houghtaling, who isn't crazy about the term "mixology," but does enter competitions and take his craft quite seriously, first saw this practice used with the "Bacontini" at the Double Down Saloon in Las Vegas a decade ago.
Houghtaling, who is creating the drink menu at the Lucky Joe's Tiki Room, 196 S. 2nd St., and tends bar at Blackbird, 3007 S. Kinnickinnic Ave., says the subtle smoky flavor that comes from the fat wash doesn't fight with the sweetness of, say, bourbon.
"Beef bouillon drinks aren't my thing like the fat wash is," he says. "You can throw chocolate or cherry in there. You're seeing the bacon fat wash bourbons pop up all over the country now. Bacon is the king."
Obviously, meat cocktails aren't right for every bar.
"The bar does have to be prepared prep-wise," says Houghtaling. "It doesn't take terribly long."
"I don't use meat is because of the short expiration of most meat products," says Michael Hofstedt II, a bartender at Club Charlies, 320 E. Menomonee St. "And the other reason is the popularity of the idea. I have no doubt a bartender could create a cocktail or shot using meat products, but selling the item is that of an extraordinary bartender. If you give a someone a rifle and a target eventually he'll hit the target, but ask him how he did it and he won't find the explanation."
The meaty exception for Hofstedt is making Bloody Marys that replace tomato juice with Clamato, which is known as a Bloody Caesar (and is especially popular, for some reason, in Canada.)
"The flavor tends to be more complex and complimentary to the spiciness," he says.
If you can't find your favorite meat drink at your corner bar, this is a project that can be undertaken at home, says Houghtaling.
And Kennedy, who's originally from Buffalo, N.Y., once found himself tipsily messing around with his nephew in the kitchen, creating a cocktail he's now calling The Buffalo Sabres Potation (although he admits he's not sure he's the one who actually invented it).
It contains Anejo tequila, mixed with carrot and lime juice, some chicken stock and Judy's Hot Sauce, garnished with gorgonzola-stuffed celery sticks. "It was really pretty good," he recalls.
Could the Buffalo Sabres Potation ever show up at Tonic?
"That would be a really simple one, actually. It would be perfect for a Packers or Badgers game," says Kennedy.
As for ham, Kennedy has also garnished a KK Whiskey mint julep with Prosciutto and pineapple.
But maybe the most innovative meat cocktail Kennedy has heard of comes from making the meat, itself, into a shot glass. Grillers, start salivating:
You take ground beef and mold it around a stainless steel shot glass. Put it on the grill to cook it, and once it cools, remove the actual shot glass, and you're left with a perfectly formed meat cup. Pour in your Bloody Mary and gobble the whole thing down.
This holiday season, you can be thankful for a shot glass made of meat.
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