Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Bacon vs. Fake Bacon: Grudge Match!

The very first comment we received on our first post at Infusions of Grandeur was a request. That request has become both a running joke and a Holy Grail in the laboratory, something we've always wanted to do but never dared. The request was for vodka infused with the flavor of bacon.

Not long after we launched the site, a bacon vodka was in fact attempted by one of our mentors, the Vodka God. Unfortunately, his bacon infusion was roundly regarded as a failure, retaining an unpleasant fatty residue even after filtration. After the Vodka God's bust, bacon vodka was set the more firmly in our minds as a bad idea, though we occasionally considered trying it with artificial "bacon pieces" such as Bac-O's. (The Vodka God used pre-crumbled, reduced-fat bacon bits, but they were made of genuine bacon.) Last week, however, my esteemed colleague discovered a January post on the blog Brownie Points, which described another methodology for infusing vodka with real bacon and removing the fat afterwards.

We decided to peer-review the Brownie Points method, and to simultaneously create a fake "bacon" bits infusion for side-by-side comparison.

Part One: Brownie Points method

Brownie Points' author McAuliflower developed her bacon vodka by infusing vodka with cooked strips of bacon, unrefrigerated for three weeks. She then placed the infused vodka in the freezer, allowing the fats to solidify, then strained out the frozen fats using a coffee filter. (The Vodka God also kept his vodka in the freezer for serving purposes, but his vodka was only filtered pre-freezing, if we are not mistaken.) Of course, due to the chemical properties of ethyl alcohol, the vodka itself will not actually reach the freezing point in most household freezers.

Wayland began the experiment by frying some bacon in a science pan. We used three strips of bacon for the infusion; a fourth was reserved for immediate consumption.

The bacon was cooked until crisp, and laid on paper towels to drain off as much grease as possible. We then sealed the bacon in a science jar with 750 mL of vodka, and placed it in a dark cupboard.

Part Two: Artificial bacon bits method

For the second test batch, we used 1/2 of a cup of McCormick Bac'n Pieces. As we discovered, dogs really don't know it's not bacon.

The bacon bits contain no cholesterol, but they do have 1.5 grams of fat per 7 gram serving. This means that they are roughly 21% fat, so our attempt to eliminate fatty residue may well backfire on us. For the record, the ingredients listed on the bacon bits' label are as follows: textured soy flour, partially hydrogenated soybean oil, salt, corn starch, natural and artificial flavors, caramel color, hydrolyzed soy protein, corn gluten, wheat protein, FD&C red 3, and autolyzed yeast.

We combined half a cup of bacon bits with 750 mL of vodka and shelved it. For control purposes, we will subject this batch to the same freezing process as the other one.

We'll see how this turns out in three weeks!

Monday, June 16, 2008

When I say bounce, you say, how high?

It's Mixology Monday again, and this time we decided to participate on purpose. The theme of this month's MxMo is Bourbon, so we are again straying from our vodka background, but again sticking with our core competency, infusion. Today's experiment is a drink which, though less common today, is steeped in tradition: the Cherry Bounce. (To see the other MxMo Bourbon participants, you can visit Scofflaw's Den, this month's host, who will post the wrap-up soon.)

While researching the Cherry Bounce, we discovered an interesting historical tidbit about our own home territory, Raleigh, North Carolina. We had long known that Raleigh, built specifically to be the state capital, was decreed to be established within ten miles of Isaac Hunter's Tavern, a favorite dive of the Constitutional Convention. What we did not know is that Joel Lane, the Revolutionary colonel who sold the plot of land where the capitol now rests, was rumored to have plied the Convention members with a libation of his own, the Cherry Bounce. Thus, this concoction may have been an integral part of the city's origin.

The Cherry Bounce consists of bourbon infused with cherries and sugar. We used brown sugar, hypothesising that the molasses in the sugar would match well with the smokiness of the whiskey.

We began with the following ingredients:

2 cups cherries
1 cup brown sugar
750 mL Maker's Mark Bourbon

Oh, how I long for the day when our nation switches to metric, so we can stop mixing-and-matching in the lab.

The various recipes we found in our research advocated a wide range of mashifying for the cherries, from well-ground to whole. (We found the use of whole cherries hard to believe, after our blueberry vodka experiment.) We decided to pick the middle road, and break them up a decent amount with a blunt instrument without entirely pulverizing them.

First, we dumped the cherries (seeds, stems and all) and sugar into a science jar. We used our old (and admittedly not airtight) jars, since the canning jars we've been using are not large enough for this experiment.

Then, Wayland began to mash the cherries with the handle of a science hammer, allowing the cherry bits and the sugar to mix well together.

After a while, the sugar and cherry juices turned to a thick syrup with large chunks.

We then introduced the bourbon, and put it on a shelf in the science pantry.

Most of our research indicated that the Cherry Bounce should infuse for three weeks. Due to the time constraints of the MxMo, we were allowed two and a half weeks before our official tasting. At this point, the bourbon had taken on a much darker hue than when it started.

As we are not whiskey drinkers generally, we decided to begin with a drink of plain Maker's Mark for control purposes. Alas, we are not very good at faking snobbishness, so we can't provide much description of the flavor qualities. "It was a little rough, though much smoother than most other whiskeys I've tasted," I wrote. "It would take some getting used to, but the flavor was pretty decent once the burn passed."

Wayland was unimpressed with the control bourbon. "It was kind of bland on the front end, and the back end was just not appealing to me. I don't know exactly how to describe it, but it's definitely not my cup of tea."

We then proceeded to the Cherry Bounce. We poured a dose of the concoction through cheesecloth to remove the particulates, chilled and sampled it.

"That was neither as sweet nor as cherry as I was expecting," Wayland wrote. "It was a bit sweeter and smoother than the baseline; however, it was only a mild change. Although that change did make it go down much easier."

My thoughts were similar. "This is a little sweeter, due to the sugar, but I didn't detect much cherry flavor. I think this needs more time, and possibly more cherries."

Of course, like most of our contemporaries, we've never tasted a traditional Cherry Bounce before, so we're not entirely sure what the proper flavor should be. We are, of course, used to infusing vodka, which accepts flavor much more easily due to its own lack thereof. However, we did expect more than a very faint hint of something potentially cherry-like. There is also the fact that we had to cut the experiment a bit short. We were hoping to have the final results of this experiment ready for Mixology Monday, but we will keep the infusion going a little longer, probably with a few more cherries, and update again when we reach a verdict.

In a few days, we will present the beginning of the first true vodka infusion experiment we've started since the relaunch. We really have a good feeling about this one, so stay tuned!