The Pigskin

1.75 oz Bacon-infused Rye
0.25 oz Maple Syrup (Grade B)
10 oz Lager

Combine Rye and maple syrup in a 2 oz shot glass.
Serve shot alongside glass of lager or drop in, depth- charge style

For Bacon-infused Rye
8 oz Rittenhouse Rye
1.5 oz Strained, Liquid Bacon Fat

Cook enough bacon to render a couple ounces of fat
Strain liquid fat through a fine sieve to remove solids
Allow to cool, then add 1.5 oz liquid to Rye
Let mixture sit at room temperature for a day
Place mixture in freezer for a few hours until fat has solidified into a cap
Remove fat cap and strain Rye again to remove any additional fat particles
If the bacon taste isn’t pronounced enough, repeat process

* * *

Lars: We need to do one of those bacon cocktails.

David: I don’t know.  The whole thing is kind of played out.

Lars: But, dude, it’s BACON.

David: Well, since you put it that way…

Today’s story is all about by-products. It begins in 1902 when three leading Chicago-based meat-packing companies (Armour, Swift, and Morris) merged to form the National Packing Company.  By 1910, the “Beef Trust” had purchased twenty three stockyards and slaughterhouses nationwide, giving the giant corporation control over approximately one-tenth of the U.S. meat business.  With outlets in more than 150 cities worldwide and a fleet of 2,600 refrigerated railcars, National Packing dominated the meat industry.  This, of course, made things extremely difficult for competitors such as Schwarzchild & Sulzberger, National Packing’s biggest rival.

Schwarzchild & Sulzberger, founded in the 1850s, desperately tried to keep up with National.  Expansions were made from its New York headquarters to Kansas City, Chicago, Oklahoma City, and Cedar Rapids, but with expansion came financial difficulties.  The solution was to be found in by-products.  Whatever parts of the animal couldn’t be used for meat would be reclaimed and processed for other industries, and in 1913 the Ashland Manufacturing Company, a Sulzberger division, was incorporated.  But new outlets alone weren’t enough; Sulzberger needed new direction as well.

Hope came in the form of a middle-aged Canadian named Thomas E. Wilson.  Wilson had worked his way up through the stockyards to became an executive at Morris and Company (of Beef Trust fame) and, in 1913, upon the death of founder Edwin Morris, became president of the company.  Unfortunately for Morris, the government had broken up the Beef Trust just a year before.  Sulzberger (now Sulzberger & Sons) knew that Wilson was the man to turn around their company, and indeed, in 1916, they persuaded him to jump ship from Morris and take over the reins at the floundering Sulzberger.

“Took the reins” may be too mild a term because Wilson quickly assumed control of the company, changed its name to Wilson & Co., and moved the headquarters to Chicago.  He also took an active interest in the by-products business, which was primarily producing catgut for the manufacture of tennis strings, violin strings, and surgical sutures.  Catgut is a durable fiber made from the intestines of livestock (not cats, despite the name), and in the beginning of the 20th century, its applications stretched across multiple industries.  It was the perfect by-product.  What caught Wilson’s eye – and where he saw the most growth – was sporting goods.

By 1917, Wilson had not only turned the meat company around, he had built one of the fifty largest corporations in America – thanks in no small part to the burgeoning sporting goods business.  A knitting mill was acquired for the manufacture of athletic uniforms.  A luggage company was acquired to make golf bags.  So confident was Wilson in the quality of its sporting goods, that the company offered a two-year unconditional guarantee on all products.  More acquisitions and products came, as did an agreement to supply all equipment for the Chicago Cubs.  But where Wilson struck gold – at least for the sake of this story – was in the hiring of a man named Arch Turner.

One of the preeminent leather craftsmen of the day, Arch Turner joined Wilson & Co. in 1919 and soon began work on redesigning – and improving – the football.  Soon, Turner’s design changes began to produce a football which was more easily passed, caught, and handled in all types of weather.  The advantages were not lost on those playing the game.  As part of a new initiative developed by the company, Knute Rockne, the great coach of Notre Dame, joined the Wilson Advisory Staff in 1924 and began to consult on the further development of the football.  Within a year, Rockne and the Wilson team developed the “KR” football, the first-ever valve inflated ball, which not only eliminated the inflation stem but produced a ball which could be thrown wobble-free.  The modern passing game was born.

By 1931, Wilson & Co. had changed its name to Wilson Sporting Goods Co. and the innovations across all sports continued.  Just a decade later, the Wilson Duke football became the official ball of the National Football League, a position it held until 1970.  1970, of course, marked the merger of the AFL and NFL, and Wilson continued to be the official ball of the new league – a position the ball still holds today.  All Wilson footballs are made at the company’s factory in Ada, Ohio, as they have been since 1955.  In fact, every point ever scored with a football in a Super Bowl game has been scored with a Wilson football.

Today, footballs are made from cowhide, but that wasn’t always the case.  The term “pigskin” comes from the original practice of using inflated or stuffed animal bladders – mostly those of pigs, it would seem – as balls.  These balls, of course, were a vast improvement over earlier English models, which where, according to lore, merely the heads of unsuccessful invaders.

Our drink, by the way, comes to us courtesy of New York’s famed speakeasy, PDT.  A few years back, bartender Don Lee developed the Bacon-infused Old Fashioned, which if it didn’t ignite the bacon-infusion craze certainly poured gallons of fuel onto it.  Lee’s Old Fashioned combined bacon-infused Bourbon (we’ve used an adjusted version of his method here) with Grade B maple syrup (our favorite type) and bitters.  Since Super Bowl Sunday is about beer, we turned Lee’s drink into a Boilermaker.  Shoot it with the beer as a back or go depth-charge style – we’ll let you make the call.  However you drink it, we hope you’ll agree that this drink has it all.  Beer, bacon, maple syrup, and football – if those aren’t the makings of a great Sunday on the couch, we don’t know what is.

Esoterica: When you’re watching the big game and you happen to catch the Goodyear blimp floating up high, stop and ask yourself how that football stays so well inflated.  It’s all thanks to vulcanized rubber, a process pioneered by Mr. Charles Goodyear.


4 responses to “The Pigskin

  1. I just read a post that walks you through the fat washing process (infusing bacon into liquor) and lists a couple bacon cocktails that look really delish.

  2. Thanks – I’ve tried the filtered fat method as well, but the bacon flavor doesn’t seem strong enough. Do you have any suggestions to improve?

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