Let there be Bacon Beer
By Timmons Pettigrew
The Lowcountry's newest brewery is Holy City Brewing, a four-man operation located in some converted warehouse space just off of Dorchester Road in North Charleston. Chris Brown, Joel Carl, Mac Minaudo, and Sean Nemitz joined forces to pursue their dream and add new flavors to the local beer market, producing fun, fresh takes on classic styles like Porter and Pilsner. But while they brew the classics very well, they are no strangers to innovation, and one of their beers in particular is a delicious affront to all that we knew as holy.
The Porter beer style has English origins, as so many styles do, circa the 18th century. It's a dark and moderately strong affair, with a normally thickish body and a lightly tanned head. While the HCB gang planned a year-round porter, now known as Pluff Mud Porter, they made an early, homebrewed variant with bacon. Not bacon flavoring. Not bacon essence. Not bacon bits. Real, breakfast-worthy strips of bacon.
The ten-gallon test-batch included a pound of bacon from Williamsburg Packing Company, a Kingstree, SC operation that also supplies bacon to EVO Pizza (where Chris worked at the time). It was a hit with local tasters, defying all logic by sporting authentic bacon flavor notes with no undesirable traits like a fatty mouthfeel or greasy film gracing the glass. With balance achieved, one would assume you could scale this recipe up easily.
The full-bore batch of bacon porter would be somewhere around 180 to 200 gallons, so the HCB boys purchased 20 pounds of the same bacon, expecting to use the same 10-to-1 beer-to-bacon ratio. The bacon was cooked down thoroughly on a flat-top, placed in mesh bags, and added during secondary fermentation, the conditioning phase after primary fermentation is complete. With hops, this is known as dry-hopping, so you could call this "dry-baconing" if you're feeling whimsical.
Alas, periodic tasting proved this was not enough. Thirteen more pounds were added, followed by seven more, for a total of forty pounds. They even added bacon-grease-soaked wood chips to really make that pork sing. The fat naturally rose in the tank, so the beer was kegged from the tank's bottom until they reached the top layer of lard. Finally, The Notorious P.I.G. was born, just in time for a debut at this year's Charleston Brewvival.
Holy City and your mouth are not the only winners here. The brewery has long since supplied the Hello My Name is BBQ crew with beer for braising. A rough growler per week of something dark tended to do the trick. With The Notorious P.I.G. in the mix, it's all out pork-on-pork action.
There are two kinds of people in this world that make me nervous: people that don't like beer, and people that don't like bacon. This brew makes quick work of separating the wheat from that chaff, while also pleasing the palate. Amen.
Timmons Pettigrew is the author of Charleston Beer: A High-Gravity History of Lowcountry Brewing. He recently co-founded CHSBeer.org, an extensive online resource for local beer, with Chrys Rynearson, his book’s photographer. Follow him on Twitter® @CHSBeer.