I am stirred to write…
OK, then, let’s start with something simple….
Some months ago a good friend shared a cocktail recipe with me for a drink that used bacon-infused bourbon. He knew about my love of a good Manhattan and of bacon so it just seemed natural. A number of things unfolded from there.
First, being a hard-core foodie, I totally immersed myself in this intriguing recipe, from a bartender in Portland named Lance Mayhew, trying to figure out how exactly one smokes sugar (to make the hickory-smoked pecan syrup, the drink’s other esoteric ingredient) and how one gets the maximum bacon flavor into bourbon w/o leaving it fatty and tongue coating. That whole process took about four weeks, during which time I copiously annotated the recipe I had been given, making small changes and additions. (*)
Second, my friend Scott Bodarky (who gave me the recipe) was looking to get into the business of publishing short-run books on esoteric topics. Someone had introduced him to Ted Munat, of the Munat Bros. in Seattle, who had just published the most amazing collection of cocktail recipes from some of the best, creative and rising-star bartenders and bloggers on the west coast – each of whom the book also briefly profiled. That book – where the recipe for the drink I was trying to make came from – was called Left Coast Libations. Ted was wanting to do a bigger and better version of the book with color photos of the drinks and an even bigger selection of bartenders. Scott and Ted soon formed a partnership in principle just for that purpose.
What happened next, roughly went like this: I gave Scott my notes on the bacon-bourbon drink (called The Screen Door Cocktail) which he forwarded to Ted. I then tackled another of the more difficult cocktails in the book, the Four O’clock by David Wolowidnyk (which requires you to make a vanilla citrus foam using a whip cream maker) making notes for that one as well. Eventually Ted read all my notes, ultimately concurring that some of the recipes were probably not as clear as they could or needed to be. I felt very strongly that if someone tried to make any of these drinks they should have a better than reasonable chance of recreating them at home – no matter how complex. Scott then pitched the idea to Ted that someone (me) should proof the recipes for the new version of the book. Fast forward another month: Scott and I met with Ted while he was in SF (over drinks, naturally) and we all agreed to move forward together. Also, someone was going to have to make all the drinks for photos. That someone was now me.
(*) – I want to confess, especially out of respect for Lance Mayhew, that some of the decisions I made regarding the original instructions for The Screen Door Cocktail probably resulted in creating a distinct variant rather than a totally faithful recreation. For example, the instructions for smoking sugar say: “smoke a block of brown sugar.” I had never heard of brown sugar coming in anything like a block and could find no obvious source for such a thing on the web. In what may have been a misguided moment of inspiration, I decided to use mexican piloncillos, unrefined cane sugar cones, which were very block-like. I also decided to smoke the pecans destined for the syrup along with the sugar, breaking up the halves into smaller pieces to maximize surface area for extraction (which Lance warned was hard). The resulting syrup was (and is) incredibly dark and full of smoky pecan goodness. I guess at some point I should post all my notes and modifications. I guess one day I should also ask Mr. Mayhew exactly what he meant by a “block of brown sugar.”