The PDT Project: Benton's Old-Fashioned
If there's one drink on the menu that PDT is perhaps most famous for, it is the Benton's Old-Fashioned. Although PDT's menu is ever-changing and some would say hyper-seasonal, there are a few drinks that are mainstays. The Benton's Old-Fashioned is one of those drinks, and to my knowledge it has not come off the menu since it first debuted back in the Winter of 2007. That's a long run, especially considering most drinks on the menu don't get more than a couple of months, at best.
But the drink has deeper significance as well. For one, it was the drink that first really put PDT on the map as a heavyweight. Using the process called "fat-washing" to infuse the flavor of bacon into Bourbon, it was a drink that displayed a level of creativity above and beyond what most of the bar's peers were doing, and showed that the bartenders there weren't simply making drinks from old books, but rather dissecting and reimagining these old drinks in a new way.
What added to the genius of the drink was that it didn't look newfangled. It was still an Old-Fashioned through and through. There's a slight touch of smokiness from the bacon that lingers on the edges but doesn't overpower the flavor of the bourbon, along with some complementing maple syrup to sweeten the deal and soften the bourbon a bit, along with some bitters to add a touch of complexity. Still three ingredients (four if you count the ice), and it still looked like a bunch of whiskey over ice, and perhaps the only thing that clued you in on the fact that it could be a cocktail was the orange peel in there.
2 oz. Benton's bacon fat-infused Four Roses Bourbon (recipe below)
0.25 oz. Deep Mountain Grade B Maple Syrup
2 dashes Angostura Bitters
orange twist, as garnish
Tools: barspoon, mixing glass, strainer
Glass: chilled Old-Fashioned glass, aka rocks glass
Method: Place the biggest chunk of ice that can fit into your Old-Fashioned glass. Pour the ingredients into a mixing glass and stir until chilled. Strain into your glass and squeeze the orange twist over the drink, and place as garnish.
Benton's Bacon Fat-infused Four Roses Bourbon (yields approx. 24 oz.)
1.5 oz. Benton's bacon fat
1 750 ml bottle Four Roses Bourbon
Method: Warm the bacon fat in a small pan over low heat, stirring until melted, about 5 minutes. Combine it with the bourbon in a non-reactive container (preferably glass or stainless steel, nothing pourous) and stir to dissolve. Allow to infuse at room temperature for 4 hours, then cover and place in the freezer for two more hours. The fat will have risen to the top, which you can scoop off. Fine strain the bourbon through a cheese cloth to remove any smaller particles and bottle. Voila, bacon infused bourbon.
PDT gets its Benton's bacon fat (along with the Kimchi for its Chang Dog) from David Chang of the Momofuku restaurants, and obviously most people don't have such a hook up, so what to do? You have a couple of options. You can either get your bacon fat from another source, say from a meat purveyor at your local farmer's market or butcher shop, or you can buy some bacon and render the fat on your own. The second is probably the easiest option, and here's a link on how to render your own bacon fat.
But regardless of where you source your bacon fat, there's one really important thing to keep in mind: the final infused product will smell and taste only as good as the bacon fat itself. Meaning, the bacon fat should smell smoky and cured, and even a bit maply, if it's been maple cured. If you're buying bacon that's not cured or smoked in any way, you're only going to end up with unflavored lard, which is what your bourbon will come out tasting like. So get the smoky bacon, because that's the flavor you're trying to impart onto the bourbon.
The Benton's Old-Fashioned is also important for what it meant for the craft cocktail movement that was still in its infancy when the drink was created. It was a cocktail that broadened the horizons of what other bartenders could imagine was possible; that you could apply modern techniques to old recipes and be successful at it, so long as you understood how to balance flavor, which you did if you were a student of the classics.
It's very difficult to reinvent the Old-Fashioned cocktail and still stay within the spirit of the drink. The Benton's Old-Fashioned is the most ambitious spin on the classic that still keeps it inarguably an Old-Fashioned: spirit, sugar, water, and bitters.
*This post is part of a series in which Payman takes on the task of making and writing about every cocktail featured in the PDT Cocktail Book, as well as providing an awesome photo of each drink taken by Vanessa Bahmani Photography.
**Got a question? He can be found on twitter @paystyle, you can email him at firstname.lastname@example.org, or simply drop him a comment below.