MBCCWT (Maple Bacon Caramel Corn Whiskey Thing)

The kids have been curious about the mixology stuff (I do put a lot of creative energy into it, so it's hard not to notice), and in the spirit of inclusivity, I've been spending some time with Zero, The Aviary's take on non-alcoholic craft cocktails.  When it came time for the older kid to go off to school a few weekends ago, the choice of cocktail for the send-off meal was Cereal Killer, a malty, non-alcoholic take on what otherwise would have made a tasty old fashioned-type concoction. 

The spiced malted barley base "makes" that drink – definitely worth trying. I failed to take ample photography (as you can see in the solitary photo below), so let's move onto the point of this post.

For the adults in the house, I turned my attention to the flagship Aviary cocktail book, only to be newly daunted by it... not because of the complexity, mind you, but because the need to prioritize tuition payments over the spendy equipment required for these beverages has suddenly gotten very real, friends. A $200 Perlini shaker, a $100+ isi whipper... I was pondering whether to spend $50 on a china cap for the very fun Cracker Jack-themed "Prize Inside" cocktail when inspiration finally hit.

I love grilling and smoking, and I also have a mad sweet tooth. The combination of those things is how my crack-like smoked maple bourbon pecan caramel corn came about a few years ago.  It was time to riff that deliciousness into a cocktail.

The caramel corn is the workhorse of that recipe, but the umami of the smoke and bacon puts it over the top. The same needed to be true of this drink, and while I'm still messing with it, I've made progress. 

A few notes on said progress:
  • I tried bacon fat-washing the Ardbeg, but the bacon only served to mute the Ardbeg's smoky deliciousness; kind of like two sine waves colliding. I tried again, fat-washing some blended Scotch with plans to incorporate pure Ardbeg in the end.
  • I initially used my trusty Pampered Chef microwave popcorn maker to pop the fresh popcorn, but the PC gadget isn't really meant for popcorn cooked in oil, so I tried my wife's ancient Whirly Pop. The resulting popcorn is way better... It's more work, but really, what's an extra 10 minutes at this point? If you don't have a Whirly Pop, pop the popcorn in a saucepan with a lid, shaking constantly to avoid scorching it.
  • I haven't decided whether I prefer using a coffee filter on the caramel corn-infused whiskey yet. I like that filtering it produces a clear liquid, but it filters out the buttery flavor of the caramel. Since I put taste above aesthetics, the recipe below only involves using a mesh strainer to remove the popcorn solids, leaving the remaining liquid cloudy with caramel solids.
  • smoking the glass is about presentation and smell. Adding liquid smoke to the bacony Scotch is about taste. Maybe employing both methods is a bit much, so if you want to get rid of one, I'd say keep the liquid smoke and dispense with the theatrics.

In true Aviary style, this drink takes 24+ hours to make and requires just about every trendy mixology fad out there today.  I probably would never have devised if working remotely weren't a thing, so let's call it a COVID silver lining. 

I'm still messing with it, but here's where I'm at.

MBCCWT (Maple Bacon Caramel Corn Whiskey Thing)

1 oz Caramel Corn-Infused Whiskey (recipe below)
1 oz Bacon Fat-Washed Blended Scotch (recipe below)
.5 oz Ardbeg an Oa or similar smoky Scotch whisky
.5 oz peanut orgeat
Scofflaw Bourbon County Reserve Bitters
Maple-glazed bacon slice

Prepare your smoky glass by charring an oak plank until it begins to smoke, then turning a rocks glass upside-down over it to catch the smoke while you make your cocktail. 

While your glass is resting and collecting smoke, combine your liquid ingredients in a mixing glass over ice and stir. 

Strain into your smoked glass over an ice ball, garnish with the bacon slice, and serve.

Extra Smoky Bacon Fat-Washed Scotch

1c blended scotch (Monkey Shoulder is my go-to)
1-2T warm rendered bacon fat (I tend to be of the opinion that more is better when it comes to bacon, but 1T is more in line with ratios I've seen)
1-2 drops of liquid smoke (optional)

Combine the scotch and bacon fat into a clean jar, shake to combine, and screw on the lid. Place the jar in the freezer overnight.

The next day, poke a hole in the layer of frozen bacon fat and strain the liquid through a coffee filter into a clean glass jar. Add the liquid smoke, shake gently to combine, screw on the lid, and refrigerate up to two weeks.

Caramel Corn-Infused Whiskey

1/3 c unpopped popcorn
750 ml J. Rieger & Sons Kansas City Whiskey (see note)
1 T caramel sauce
1 t roasted peanut oil
Pinch of salt

Equipment needed: sous vide, quart-sized canning jar and canning lid. You can also use a gallon-sized freezer bag -- if you have a sous vide, you should know how to get the air out of the bag and such, so I won't go into it here. Remaining instructions assume you're using a jar.

Prepare a pot with water and assemble your sous vide. Set sous vide temp to 165 F and preheat.

Meanwhile, pop your popcorn in toasted peanut oil.

Add caramel to your quart-size canning jar and fill to the brim with popcorn (not all of it will fit right away). Pour some of the whiskey over the top -- as the popcorn soaks up the whiskey, it will reduce in volume to make space for more popcorn. Alternate popcorn and whiskey until you're out of popcorn, then top it off with whiskey until you're at about half an inch from the top of the jar.

Wipe any liquid from the rim of the jar, place the canning jar lid over it, and screw on the canning jar ring until fingertip tight. Don't crank the lid on, or the jar could break.

Once the water has reached temperature, place the jar in the water, making sure there's at least 1 inch of water clearance above the jar.

After 2+ hours, remove the jar from the water and allow to cool. When cooled enough to handle, shake the jar to mix in any remaining caramel.  Strain the liquid through a mesh strainer at least, and then through a coffee filter (if you like it clear) into a clean jar or container. Seal the container and refrigerate for up to 2 weeks.

Note: J. Reiger & Sons' Kansas City Whiskey is whiskey with some trace amounts of Oloroso Sherry blended in. In fact, I think it's basically bourbon, but they can't call it that because there is actually sherry added vs. the bourbon just being finished in an Oloroso barrel. If you can't find it, look for a bourbon finished in sherry casks, like Rabbit Hole.

Peanut Orgeat

I don't want to give away The Aviary's recipe here (go buy the book, it's worth it!), but I don't think you'll be too far off if you toss raw unsalted peanuts in some toasted peanut oil and roast them, then sub those out for almonds in your favorite orgeat recipe off the internet. 

Maple-Glazed Bacon

1 lb bacon, the smokier the better
4 T maple syrup
1 t maple sugar (optional)
Pinch of citric acid (optional)

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit. Fit a baking sheet with a metal baking rack and place in the oven.

Meanwhile, mix maple sugar and citric acid (if using) in a small bowl, and set aside.

After 12 minutes or when bacon is cooked just enough to eat if you really wanted to (I believe the FDA calls that 140 degrees F), remove the bacon from the oven.

First, pour off some bacon fat for the Bacon Fat-Washed Scotch. Next, brush maple syrup onto the bacon to coat, flip, and brush the other sides.  Return to oven for 5 minutes.

Every 5 minutes, brush on more maple syrup until the bacon and return to the oven. When the bacon has a light crisp but is still meaty, that's a good time to remove it from the oven.

Slather on a final layer of maple syrup and sprinkle with maple sugar/citric acid mixture before setting aside to cool. Store in the refrigerator if not using immediately.