When Spanish jamón ibérico first arrived stateside almost six years ago, Adam Seger, then creating cocktails at Nacional 27, embarked on a culinary experiment.
Before then, meat from Spanish hogs were illegal in the U.S. But once lawmakers lifted the restriction, Seger procured a rare jamón leg and submerged it in Spanish brandy, leaving it alone for 72 hours. The results were pleasing to him.
"The brandy literally sucked up the complex, smoky flavor," Seger recalls, gushing about the aroma. "It was almost like an aged flavor from a good cheese."
Seger's experiments led to the creation of the "Ham and Cheese Sidecar," which he mixed with jamón-infused cognac, honey, cinnamon and manchego cheese. Cured meats, bacon especially, allow the liquor to absorb the flavor best, Seger says.
Others have now followed Seger's lead in using meat as a cocktail ingredient, but Seger—who since has founded HUM spirits, and now is a partner at Rare Botanical Bitters Co. and Rare Tea Syrups & Shrubberies—remembers the initial reaction from customers.
"People were just excited by the fact the real, proper jamón was finally in Chicago," he says. "But the cocktail was just another way to experience it. But a lot of them thought we must be nuts."
The ham and cheese cocktail even fascinated vegetarians, Seger adds. "When you get a vegetarian to eat meat through a cocktail, you know you're on to something," he says.
So in celebration of Eater's Five Days of Meat, here are eight Chicago-area watering holes where you can find a meaty cocktail.
· All The Five Days of Meat Coverage [-ECHI-]