Craft Breweries Bringing Home the Bacon (Beer)
I can still remember the day I had my first taste of Maple Bacon Coffee Porter from Funky Buddha Brewery in Oakland Park, Fla., just outside Fort Lauderdale. It was January 2014, at a beer festival in the brewery’s expansive parking lot. In fact, the festival was organized to celebrate the beer’s annual release.
As soon as I lifted the dark beer to my lips, the delicious creamy mouthfeel hit me, setting up the layers of sweet malt and toffee, that gave way to waves of smoke, coffee, salt chocolate and yes, bacon flavor. The finish was almost like a sticky, rich full taste of maple syrup. This was a beer like none other - and I’ve tasted plenty since becoming a beer journalist in 2011.
Funky Buddha was not the first brewery to try a bacon-flavored brew but its huge commercial success and national and global awards has helped make the brewery nationally known. For beer drinkers outside of South Florida, the brew has helped lead a burgeoning trend in bacon-flavored beers. Typically, these bacon beers don’t have actual bacon in them. Instead, they tend to be made with smoked malts to simulate the sweet taste.
Today, finding a bacon style beer still takes some work, but more brewers are giving it a try, particularly in the colder months when stouts and porters proliferate stores and tap lines.
- Back Road Brewery in La Porte, Indiana has its Red Rye Bacon Spilled, a subtly smoky ale infused with 10.5 pounds of apple wood smoked bacon.
- Odd Side Ales of Grand Haven, Mich., known for using experimental ingredients across a wide gamut of styles, makes a Rye Hipster Brunch Stout made with coffee, maple syrup and bacon that's also aged in rye whiskey barrels.
- Listermann Brewing of Cincinnati makes Friar Bacon Smoked Bock.
- Legal Remedy Brewing of Rock Hill, S.C. has its Malice Maple Bacon, a Russian imperial stout that’s dark, bitter, with touch of smoked bacon at the end of the sip.
- Rogue Ales of Portland has its Voodoo Doughnut Bacon Maple Ale, named for the famous Oregon bakery. It's sold in bright pink bottles to make it even more distinctive. Rogue officials says it does use some real bacon along with Beachwood smoked malt.
- MillerCoors’ has its Blue Moon Dark Chocolate Bacon Porter, a deep mahogany colored ale brewed with hickory-smoked bacon and dark chocolate for a slightly sweet yet savory taste.
- 3 Stars Brewing in Washington, D.C. last year introduced Starsky & Brunch, a dessert style beer with maple bacon flavor. The beer is a takeoff on its Starsky & Dutch, a chocolate stout.
- Texas Corners Brewing Co. in Kalamazoo in January had a beer and bacon pairing to celebrate Kalamazoo Beer week.
Dave Coleman, co-founder of 3 Stars, said the idea for the new beer came during a brainstorming session with the brew team. “Someone brought up the idea of how good Starsky & Dutch would be with coffee, and one thing led to another and we ended up discussing brunch and what other components would complement all those chocolate notes and complete the concept. Then it was how to get bacon into it without the fat totally destroying head retention. Creative problem solving and development. Ya know, brewing.” Coleman said the brewery uses a cherrywood smoked malt to bring out the bacon flavors, which are more subtle than in Funky Buddha’s brew.
Bacon and beer aren’t yet going together like pizza and beer or peanut butter and jelly, but its getting there. In addition to bacon-flavored beers, there’s numerous bacon and beer festivals featuring, you guessed it, slices of bacon and beer. At the Grease Burger Bar in West Palm Beach, complimentary slices of bacon are put on the bar to enjoy.
“There's no doubt Americans love bacon,” said Jess Baker, editor and chief of CraftBeer.com, a program of the Brewers Association, a craft beer trade group. “Even on CraftBeer.com, our beer and bacon recipes – like beer-candied bacon, stout-infused marshmallow and bacon s’mores - are a big hit,” he said. “Small and independent brewers are often brewing beers that connect us beer lovers to memories through flavors, so it's natural U.S. brewers would make beers invoking the same flavor profile of bacon.”
Funky Buddha first concocted Maple Bacon Coffee Porter at its small Boca Raton, Fla. brewpub in 2011. “It struck a chord right away,” recalled Ryan Sentz, founder and head brewer of Funky Buddha. “It was our first culinary inspired beer that put us on the scene,” Sentz said of its bacon beer. "Its tastes even better than it sounds. People keep coming back for it."
To keep the buzz on the special beer, Funky Buddha decided in 2013 to only release the Maple Bacon once a year — at its annual January festival. There you can drink it on draft and purchase 22-ounce bottles. Next MBCP Festival will be held on Jan. 12, 2019.
“We're proud to have helped spawn such an interesting style of beer,” said John Linn, marketing director for Funky Buddha. The brewery was purchased last year by Constellation Brands, which sells Corona Extra.
One note of caution for bacon beer lovers: just because the word "bacon" is in the name does not mean it's a bacon-flavored beer. The Bacon & Eggs – a Breakfast Coffee Imperial Porter— from Pizza Port Brewing in San Diego, is a great beer but has no bacon flavor. “Because of the high amount of coffee in the beer, it's meant as a pun since it pairs well with breakfast,” said Pizza Port’s manager Jessie McGInley-Kase . Still, look for cans of Bacon & Eggs starting in March.
Bacon-flavored beers are often called "breakfast in a glass" for the tastes they conjure up. In fact, Dogfish Head Craft Brewery of Delaware named its beer with all sorts of breakfast ingredients Beer for Breakfast. The roasted chicory stout has huge notes of coffee, maple syrup, Delaware-made scrapple and malty spices that give some bacon flavor, too.