YES… BUT DOES YOUR PINT COME WITH BACON?
There are few great absolutes in life. The undeniable worth of a quality bar snack is one of them.
A good bar snack is what you might call an intangible—it makes the beer taste better, the time spent seem more fulfilling and the shelled peanut appear to be something worth the effort of an oyster. And yet, I see them less and less. It’s as if the a-hole who always told you about trace elements of human shit in the communal relish tray finally got into people’s ear. Maybe it is Germaphobia. Maybe it’s plain cold economic cheapness. Whatever it is, it’s a damn tragedy. I think it’s time we all wash our hands a little better and see the good in life for what it is: bar snacks are delicious and when done right, the world is a better place.
Having at least a small bite with alcohol is nearly always my preference. A tray of salami and cheese compliments everything from PBR to Champaign and can become the high point of a week when positioned next to an Aglianico. Chips and salsa (and queso if you’re in Texas) hold the ability to turn an afternoon pint into a somewhat legitimate meal. Snacking directly off a backyard grill elevates sitting in your yard to a neighborhood sanctioned activity. And if you’re lucky enough to find a dimly lit place with a comfy stool and free Chex Mix, or better yet tater tots, don’t ever go anywhere else– no matter how sticky the floor or foul the men’s room.
It’s not just that a smallish bowl of free mixed nuts or rye crackers tastes good, it’s that there’s a certain amount of unspoken caretaking inferred by the publican. It’s a free service offered with nothing but your enjoyment in mind. Some may argue that a snack is offered to maintain sobriety, but to them I would ask just how many pretzel sticks one requires to soak up several pints worth of beer. No. The bar snack, like the heavy freehanded pour, is a social contract reserved for quality establishments. Be it down and dirty or high falutin’, the bar snack is the mark of an executive level drinking hole. This is especially true when the offering is something made in-house, with a small amount of imagination and presented without flourish or pretense.
After I little thought I’ve figured that there’s a sort of pentaverate of qualities that create the perfect food for a draught. First and foremost it has to continually lead you back to the pint, so salty is in– it’s hardly a bar snack if it makes you want to leave the bar now is it? Also, it needs to be crunchy. I’d venture to guess there’s a reason you’ve never seen stewed prunes gracing a libation. It needs to eat bigger than it is. In other words, you want to feel satisfied by a few bites without being actually full. It needs to be handheld, no napkin required. And it needs to be plentiful, portion control has no place here.
My answer to the perfect bar snack: Maple Bacon Caramel Corn. It’s my own recipe, but in reality it’s an amalgamation of several different bites I’ve enjoyed with the occasional pint. It combines crunchy and moderate sweetness with decent amounts of heat and salt, and then of course bacon. The bacon provides a small amount of protein, fatty chewy smokiness and the added novelty of eating bacon as finger food. I’ve also included Spanish peanuts, because it just wouldn’t be a bar snack without peanuts. The resulting bite is something that can be eaten by the fistful with traces of pork fat, cayenne and nuttiness peaking through between crunches of salty sweetness.
Place a bowl of it on your coffee table and wash it down with some homebrewed Graff and you’ll feel like a man who has built the perfect bar right in his living room, just without all the alcoholic stigma.
My latest brew is Graff. I discovered Graff and its recipe, which is not my own, posted here on a homebrew forum. It’s not quite cider. It’s not quite beer. But it’s damn good as well as quick and cheap to make. Not to mention the fact that it lends itself perfectly to quaffing, swilling or gulping on a hot afternoon, whatever your preference. In essence it’s a shortcut recipe for those who don’t feel like frittering away months waiting for a traditional cider to mature. The result is a lightly malted, hopped cider of medium to light gravity and mild acidity. When you serve it cold it’s crisp, light in flavor and refreshing as hell. On this batch I followed the recipe exactly, making a gallon of wort, mixing it with organic apple juice and then pitching a clean fermenting ale yeast. When I make it again I’m might try a Belgian style yeast for some some spicy, clovey phenols, add a clarifier during the boil, up the gravity with some honey in primary and then pitch some green apple skins in secondary for a fresher, more pronounced apple flavor. The beauty of the recipe is that it’s cheap and quick enough to turn around a very drinkable product in a month. So I won’t feel too horribly if I screw it up and even if I do, it will probably still taste pretty good. In the meantime I’m going to enjoy the current batch immensely, washing it down with a little Maple Bacon Caramel Corn.
Maple Bacon Caramel Corn
Diced bacon (home cured is best if you have it)
Roasted Spanish Peanuts
Preheat the oven to 250. Cook the bacon till it’s just underdone and not quite crisp. Pour off and reserve the fat. If you’re using a stovetop popcorn popper, pop the corn with some of the bacon fat. In a sauce pan mix brown sugar, maple syrup and a mixture of butter and bacon fat in a 2:1:1 ratio, season liberally with Cayenne pepper. Once the mixture has begun to boil, whisk to be sure the sugar has completely dissolved and add a small pinch of baking soda. In a bowl toss the popcorn, bacon, peanuts and caramel together to coat everything evenly. Spread the mixture on a baking sheet and bake for about 30 minutes to take some of the stickiness out of the caramel. Taste for seasoning and sprinkle with a little sea salt if necessary. Open a beer and enjoy.