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Yes, San Francisco, That Is Meat In Your Cocktail

SAN FRANCISCO (CBS SF) – San Francisco is always known as being one of the leaders in culinary trends in this country. One that has recently popped up is savory cocktails with a rather unique twist – they have some variation of meat in them.

"Cocktail culture has never seen more creativity than right now. No ingredients are off the table as long as they bring flavor and balance to a drink," said Jon Gasparini, who along with Greg Lindgren, of Rye on the Road, has designed the new cocktail menu at Belcampo Meat Co. in San Francisco.

In that vein, Gasparini and Lindgren have created the Boney Mary and Bone Broth Toddy for Belcampo. The restaurant and butcher shop makes its own organic bone broth in-house and that along with their signature Shotgun Sauce are two of the key ingredients in each cocktail.

"We originally considered using the broth in an updated Bull Shot. The Bull Shot was created in the 1950's and is essentially a Bloody Mary with beef bouillon used to replace tomato juice. The drink is thinner in body than a Bloody Mary and just not as satisfying," they said. "For us, the bone broth was more appealing served hot. This led us to think of creating a Toddy."

Gasparini and Lindgren said, despite what some might think, the bone broth at Belcampo is lower in salt content and lighter without the bouillon quality.

"It acts as a nice canvas for layering complimentary ingredients [like ginger, chili, and other spices] and we've found that it works well with sherry, vodka and tequila."

So is this the start of a trend at restaurants in San Francisco?  Lindgren and Gasparini said they don't necessarily think "meat-centric" cocktails are a movement, but just further proof that bars at restaurants are exploring their options as far a the ingredients that are available for cocktails.

Nothing "New"
Lou Bustamante is a freelance spirits, bar and cocktail writer based in the Bay Area who has a pulse of both the local and national cocktail scene.  He agrees with Lindgren and Gasparini. 

"It's not an old trend, but it definitely isn't new [either].  Don Lee was one of the first to do it with a bacon fat washed bourbon for a Bacon Old Fashioned that was a huge craze at PDT in New York," Bustamante said.

"For a while, Alex Smith was infusing chorizo into his bitters at Gitane while he was there. I think the meat in cocktails thing just comes in waves - ebb and flow.  I think partly because the appeal is the shock factor, so that wears off.  Plus, working with meat in spirits is tricky since it can do some weirdly rank things if you're not careful." 

The Cutting Edge
Shock factor might be the right word for another meat-based cocktail we found in San Francisco.  Pabu opened with much anticipation right in the heart of the Financial District at 101 California  Street in 2014.  It is the latest restaurant in the growing empire of chef Michael Mina.

Corporate Bar Director Carlo Splendorini is often behind the stick at Pabu and had a big part in introducing the monthly "Down the Hatch" program at Mina Group restaurants nationwide.  This year, the restaurant group's beverage all-stars are offering a different and unique cocktail experience each month, featuring infused spirits.  So what did Splendorini come up with in March?

"It actually started as a joke when I was at Bourbon Steak in Miami.  Eric Perlin [Director of New Restaurants, Mina Group] and I were talking about using foie gras in a drink and I came up with the name - Old 'Foie' Shioned," Splendorini said.  "But the idea sort of gained steam and I knew I had to come up with something."

What he came up with is the Japanese Old 'Foie' Shioned, which is the featured "Down the Hatch" drink at Pabu in March.  Splendorini spends hours on the infusion process, using a Cryovac for the foie gras, allowing the fat to coagulate, before infusing it with Nikka Coffey Still Japanese Grain Whiskey.  He adds kumquat sugar, and chocolate and orange bitters, served short with a hand-cut ice cube.  A lobe of foie gras and kumquat are added as garnishes, to be enjoyed with the cocktail.

Old 'Foie' Shioned
The Japanese Old 'Foie' Shioned at Pabu in San Francisco. (Photo Credit: Kevin McCullough)

"It has been fun.  We have a lot of returning customers, asking about the drink, and ordering it again on their next visit," Splendorini said.  "Working with these type of ingredients is not very common, though I've heard of people using duck fat and beef fat. But we enjoy giving people a unique cocktail experience."

The Japanese Old 'Foie' Shioned will be off the menu at the end of the month, but Splendorini said it will still be available on a limited basis after March.  He also said he's working on another unique cocktail infusion, but it's still in the works.

More Than Just Sizzle?
In the same vein as Pabu, Michael Mina's eponymous restaurant is also providing guests with its own unique infused cocktail experience this month.  Lead bartender Raymundo Delgado has created a cocktail tasting menu of sorts, using three different spirits and three different ingredients for his infusion.  The "starter" cocktail features vodka infused with grilled octopus, the "main" showcases gin infused with Serrano ham, and the "dessert" is a mescal-based cocktail which is infused with pineapples.

Cocktail at Michael Mina in San Francisco includes vodka infused with grilled octopus. (Keith Mizuguchi/CBS)

"I'm treating the cocktails like a meal, with an appetizer, second course and finale, something they might expect when eating at Michael Mina," Delgado said.

In tasting first the infused spirits, and then the cocktails, you can taste and smell the uniqueness in each.  The vodka has a smoky, almost scotch-like taste, and the smell of the octopus is sharp.  But by charring it, the spirit itself is not fishy at all.  The cocktail Delgado has created is light and citrus-driven, with lime playing a big role.  The gin is unique in that the saltiness from the serrano ham is ever-present.  But Delgado takes a way a bit of the saltiness in the cocktail itself.  "I use the high acidity from the apple and orange juice to combat the saltiness, and make it easier to drink.  So the orange juice stays on the palate at first, then you're hit with the salty aftertaste."  Both cocktails provide a unique glimpse at the infusion process, with such differing flavor profiles.

So the question remains, does the fact that 2-3 restaurants are doing some meat-based cocktails make it a trend or just a passing fad?

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