LINCOLN PARK — Baconfest fans can warm up for this weekend with something of an appetizer course Wednesday night at Barn & Company: four different types of house-made bacon paired with four different Lagunitas beers.
"It's kind of hard to beat the combination of beer and bacon," said pitmaster Gary Wiviott as he made final preparations for the dinner Wednesday afternoon.
Wiviott took eight pork bellies, cured them for a week, flavored them and smoked them in hickory. The four and their Lagunitas pairings are:
• Brown sugar pepper bacon dipped in Zanzibar chocolate ("yes, really!" emphasizes the menu) with an imperial stout.
• Rojo mole bacon with a Czech-style pilsner.
• Four pepper Szechuan maple syrup bacon with Little Sumpin Ale.
• Rosemary cured bacon with Aunt Sally Sour Mash Ale.
"You don't want to get carried away with something like this," Wiviott said. "Four flavors is pretty much the outside limit."
While all the bacon was made on site at Barn & Company, 950 W. Wrightwood Ave., Wiviott copped to getting the rojo mole he used from Cremeria La Ordena #2, 3810 W. Lawrence Ave. in Albany Park.
"Their stuff is fantastic," he said. "You can pretty much eat it out of the pan it's so delicious."
Wiviott also granted that he's not the biggest beer geek. "I'm a pretty good cook," he said. "I don't know a ton about beer."
So Barn & Company General Manager Ryan Jordan and a Lagunitas representative joined Wiviott in selecting the pairings. "Lagunitas has a pretty big stable," he said.
Bacon and beer fanciers can agree the pairings appear to make pretty good sense. Wiviott said the rosemary bacon was the most difficult match, so he smoothed the transition by hitting the bacon with a barbecue mop cut with Aunt Sally Sour Mash Ale.
Tickets for the event, starting at 7 p.m., are $35, available online until 3 p.m., although Wiviott said they didn't figure to be turning anyone away at the door.
"I made a lot of bacon," he said. "If people want to show up at 7 o'clock, that's all good." If it's more than just a person or two in the party, however, Wiviott advised to send him an email in advance to firstname.lastname@example.org to give him a little warning.
Wiviott said he's done more than 30 pitmaster dinners at Barn & Company in its five years of operation. "They've ranged pretty far and wide," he said. "Frankly, it's fun to go off the reservation a little bit, to step outside the day-to-day playbook."
Wiviott joined the restaurant at its inception, fresh from publishing his hit "Low & Slow" barbecue cookbook. The Szechuan bacon is actually modified from a recipe in the follow-up, "Low & Slow 2," which the self-described "barbecue life coach" put out in 2015.
"At first, I just thought of it as a chef job. But I'm a barbecue guy and it's a barbecue place," he added, "and it's a good fit for everyone."
Wiviott said that personally he's been on a Szechuan kick lately, and it's found its way into Wednesday's menu in the form of Szechuan potstickers, with "bacon spice and everything nice."
Barn & Company also has a 7 p.m. Saturday slot at Baconfest, however, and Wiviott said he'd be serving a kung pao bacon there at University of Illinois at Chicago Forum, 725 W. Roosevelt Road, inspired, he said, by some kung pao pastrami he had on a recent trip to San Francisco.
Now that's really bringing home the bacon.