Fort Wayne's 1st annual Beer, Bourbon, and Bacon Festival

Foellinger-Freimann Botanical Conservatory
Foellinger-Freimann Botanical Conservatory

Last Saturday night, the promise of a taste bud tantalizing trio of bacon, bourbon and beer brought quite the crowd to the Botanical Conservatory in downtown Fort Wayne.

Presented by Rock104, Oldies102.9 and WILD96.3 this was the inaugural celebration with over one thousand guests. How did this glorious ocassion come about, one might wonder.

J.J. Fabini, with Summit City Radio Group, was an organizer of the event and described the inception of the festival thus:

“We decided that we wanted to throw our hat into the ring and see what it was like to put one of these on, so when looking for something different to bring to the table the first thing that came to mind was bacon. Everybody loves bacon.”

Everyone I know certainly loves bacon, and the tickets were quickly sold out. Rumor had it that tickets were going for $500 on Craigslist. Regardless of the how or why, an extremely long line snaked around the front of the building well past the 5 o'clock start.

With unlimited sampling of over 60 local, national and regional beers (including Mad Anthony, Summit City Brewers, Dark Horse, Bell's, Three Floyds, Dogfish Head, and Goose Island), limited sampling of bourbon from Indiana and Kentucky, and food from 5 different local restaurants (Trolley Steaks and Seafood, Main Street Bistro & Martini Lounge, Shigs in Pit, Eddie Merlot, and Chops), there was plenty to salivate over.

Not one for long lines, I was happy to have an errand to run while the initial onslaught of hungry and thirsty BBB lovers careened towards the goods. Even once inside, closer to 6, the crowds still herded heavily towards the star attraction: bacon (at least in my book).

Past the ticket takers, we bypassed moderate crowds surrounding the first watering hole offering up assorted ales and IPAs. A woman walked by holding something wrapped in bacon. I inquired, and was shuffled into the massive queue overflowing from the room where the food was harbored.

Once inside the room, we were packed like sardines with a bacon breeze wafting above us. I was momentarily gripped by a flashback from the crammed craziness of the Beijing subway. My claustrophobia could not get the best of my stomach, and I focused on the first station immediately inside the door: Main Street Bistro.

Maint Street Popper
Maint Street Popper

There was no contest, the bacon wrapped jalapeno popper with raspberry dipping glaze was my ultimate favorite of the night. I'm not sure if it was because it was first, or simply just the best. The sweet tang of berry juice intermingling with the spicy peppery and the warm cream cheese that immediately oozed out was a flavor extravaganza, the bacon crisped to perfection. When eating food in such situations, part of the appreciation comes from the visceral experience. Standing in a packed room full of strangers, bumping into you and past, with bacon fueled zombie-like stares, flimsy paper plates and needing more than just a tiny tissue napkin for the exploding popper made it ... special.

A bacon covered treat in the midst of a hungry, jostling group of post hibernation bears (/Fort Wayners in the spring).

Not having read the fliers too carefully, I and the group I was with were slightly disappointed that even with the $35 cover charge, you still had to pay for the food (at, albeit, rather reduced prices).

Shigs in Pit was probably the other star favorite of the night. They had a whole smorgasbord of bacon wrapped meats and sauces, along with a chocolate peanut butter brownie with caramelized bacon on top.

After gobbling down one of everything with my fellow cohorts, we found ourselves in a bit of a bacon induced daze, followed closely by a visit from the meat sweats. We ambled down the hall for refreshments. The first large room contained a folk band and more beverages, and thankfully, more room for people to spread out. The jungle room had bourbon stations set up strategically to allow for the lines. Further yonder in the desert room, the wait for the sampling was an hour. As it was already nearing 8, we decided the 20 minute line in the jungle would be enough.

Here is where the evening took an interesting turn. Apparently bacon cream bourbon is a thing. It was ... interesting. Not sure how I felt about it, and for the life of me, I can't remember the brand name. Gearing up to go we began to say our goodbyes, including a closing word with Chef, from Chops. Lured by the bacon brittle and a giant jar of cherries, a drink caught my eye on Eddie Merlot's table. (I'd been handed one of their chocolate bacon cupcake push-pops earlier. It was sublime.)

Bacon cream soda. With cherries. And soda and bacon flavoring stuff and ... cream. To be honest, I wanted to keep the cute mason jar it came in more than the drink itself, my stomach already wary after the onslaught of meat and booze. Two small sips was about all I managed, wanting to err on the side of caution rather than stomach suicide.

All in all, it was a fun event because it was different, and delicious. While slightly too crowded for comfort for those of us disinclined to small spaces, there was room to spread out, after pushing resolutely past the throngs by the food. Hopefully next year the Beer, Bourbon and Bacon fest blesses us with its existence once more, with only a few minor adjustments.

Old Fashioned Bacon Cream Soda by Eddie Merlots
Old Fashioned Bacon Cream Soda by Eddie Merlots

Photos by Tony Frantz