Cocktail enthusiasts have already thought up bacon-infused whiskey. Now an Iowa distillery is trying a new twist on the pork pairing: feeding a rye whiskey byproduct to heritage hogs and marketing the meat to gourmet chefs.
Will the bacon taste like whiskey?
“No one really knows, because we haven't done it before,” Templeton Rye President Scott Bush said. “I do think, and hope, that if these pigs are paired with our product, that it will really match well together.”
Results from the Templeton, Iowa, distillery's tank-to-farm-to-table experiment will be in in late June or early July when the 25 hogs are ready for slaughter. They'll be processed at Waucoma, Iowa-based Lynch Livestock and sold whole-hog for $699 to chefs and members of Templeton Rye's Bootleggers Society rewards program.
Feeding livestock spent mash, dried and processed into distillers grains, is nothing new. Corn-based distillers grains from Iowa's ethanol industry and Colorado breweries are widely used as feed for livestock and poultry. The Iowa Corn Promotion Board says they are “rich in the protein, fat, minerals and vitamins animals need.”
But Bush believes this is the first time a distillery has worked directly with a pork producer to raise hogs that will be associated with a particular brand of spirits. He envisions chefs serving the pork paired with Templeton Rye-based cocktails or sauces. Templeton Rye has been sold in Nebraska since March 2013 and has already been featured by chefs and at cocktail events here.
“It's really kind of an interesting idea that percolated in our minds over a long time,” said Bush. “There's always a real close coordination with high end spirits and high-end food.”
Naturally, the idea first arose late at night over cocktails, Bush said. The next day, it still sounded like a good idea, so he pursued it, connecting with hog farmers at last year's Iowa State Fair. The animals, sourced through Iowa State University, are being raised in an “open pen setting” at a family farm facility in Woodward, Iowa, under the supervision of an Iowa State University animal scientist.
Bush also called on Iowa pork nutritionist — and rye whiskey fan — Mark Bertram, to develop the hogs' diet.
The grains come from Indiana, where most of the brand's whiskey is produced through a distillery partner. (Templeton Rye is bottled in Templeton, and Bush said he plans one day to bring all the operations home to Iowa.) The grains are trucked back to Woodward and added to the hogs' diet, which also includes corn, soybean meal, fat and vitamins and minerals.
The hogs will be slaughtered at 210 pounds, smaller than typical commercial market weight of 240 to 260 pounds. Templeton said it may not be the ideal weight economically, but will produce better quality and flavor.
Bush said he hopes an Omaha-area chef will be among those who apply to purchase one of the hogs. Anyone interested can visit www.templetonryeporkproject.com for information.
If you're not chosen to purchase one of the 25 hogs, or just don't want to wait that long, Bush has a recipe on the Templeton website for Iowa pork chops topped with apples — sauteed in butter and Templeton Rye.