by Brad Ring
Oren Combs, former brewer and general manager at San Juan Brewing Co. in Friday Harbor, Washington, is not a man to back down from a challenge. When talk at his brewpub turned to food a few years ago, the conversation found its way naturally to all things pork. “Someone suggested I could make a bacon beer and people laughed at the idea, but it got me thinking,” Oren remembers. So he set out to create a bacon beer that is the stuff of Homer Simpson’s ultimate dream. Beer good. Bacon good. Bacon beer better.
In 2008, he first put his bacon beer on tap at the brewpub located on scenic San Juan Island and put up a pig-shaped sign in the window to announce it. “We did it as a complete novelty, I had no idea what the reaction would be to something like a bacon beer,” he says. It turned out people loved the idea of bacon in their beer. People even lined up to take photos of the pig sign. “During the peak tourist season we sometimes had 100 people a day taking photos of the bacon beer sign.”
So how exactly do you put some boar in your next pour? “One of the biggest challenges is getting rid of the bacon fat which you don’t want in your beer,” Oren says. He decided to oven bake the bacon to a super crisp first to cook off the fat and then essentially dry hop a beer in the tanks with the oven-dried bacon.
Baking in the oven should work better than cooking in a pan to remove the most bacon fat. Cook the bacon strips on parchment paper on a cookie sheet in an oven preheated to 350 °F (177 °C). Cook for at least 15 minutes until crispy, but make sure the bacon does not get burned. Remember you want that tasty bacon goodness in your beer, not burnt flavors. Drain the cooked bacon on paper towels and pat or squeeze off the excess fat with some additional paper towels.
For a 5.0-gallon (19-L) batch, cook enough bacon to end up with about 5.0 ounces (142 g) of crispy cooked bacon. Put the cooked bacon in a mesh bag and dry hop as you normally would in the secondary fermenter. By all means, start tasting your beer daily to get the right level of bacon flavor. As tough as it is to imagine, you don’t want to over-bacon your beer.
San Juan Brewing went with a lower-alcohol, 3.1% ABV pale ale as the base beer when the bacon beer was first released. “I think a darker beer might go with the bacon flavors even better than the pale ale. I would want to try a porter or stout with bacon,” Oren says looking back at his original choice of base beer.
While San Juan Brewing chose to dry hop (or is it dry hog?) their bacon beer, another technique you can experiment with at home is to take your crispy, cooked bacon and create a bacon extract. Add a few ounces of a neutral spirit like vodka to some crumbled bacon and let it soak for at least two days. Then strain out the bacon, taste the pork extract and experiment by adding increasing amounts of the bacon-infused vodka into your secondary fermenter until you get the taste you want.
A January flood has closed San Juan Brewing since the start of the year, and brewer Oren Combs is moving on to new ventures, but he leaves his legacy of bacon beer behind forever. Now, you can brew your own bacon beer at home. The recipe accompanying this article uses a porter as the base beer, but feel free to experiment with different beer styles as the base — after all you are adding bacon to beer!
Charlotte’s Some Pig Porter
(5 gallons/19 L, extract with grains and pork)
OG = 1.056 FG = 1.014
IBU = 35 SRM = 50 ABV = 5.4%
6.6 lbs. (3.0 kg) Muntons Light liquid malt extract
0.75 lb. (0.34 kg) Muntons Light dried malt extract
8.0 oz. (0.23 kg) crystal malt (80 °L)
8.0 oz. (0.23 kg) chocolate malt
4.0 oz. (0.11 kg) black patent malt
8.5 AAU English Fuggles hops (60 mins)
(1.7 oz./48 g of 5% alpha acid)
2.5 AAU English Fuggles hops (15 mins)
(0.5 oz./14 g of 5% alpha acid)
Wyeast 1098 (British Ale) yeast or White Labs WLP002) (English Ale) yeast
5.0 oz. (142 g) crispy cooked bacon (dry hog)
6.0 oz. (170 g) corn sugar (for priming)
Step by Step
Steep specialty grains in 2.0 qts. (~2 L) water at 154 °F (68 °C) for 30 minutes. Add water to make 3.0 gallons (11 L) in your brewpot, add roughly half of the malt extract and bring to a boil. Boil one hour, adding hops at times indicated. Stir in remaining malt extract during the final 15 minutes of the boil. Cool wort, transfer to fermeter and top up with cool water to 5.0 gallons (19 L). Aerate and pitch yeast. Ferment at 70 °F (21 °C). Follow the directions in the article for preparing and “dry hogging” with bacon.
Replace malt extracts with 10.5 lbs. (4.8 kg) two-row pale malt. Mash at 154 °F (68 °C).
Brad Ring is Publisher of Brew Your Own magazine.