Twenty-five pigs mill around in open pens on a tiny farm in Woodward, Iowa. They are fat, robust and being raised to taste of rye whiskey.
Small-batch distillery Templeton Rye is feeding them the mash used in making its distinctive American whiskey, hoping that the rich taste of the grain will grab consumers' attention.
Templeton is especially long on rye, with more than 90 percent of its mash coming from the high-protein grain, and malted barley for the remainder.
The spent mash is folded into the pig feed, making up 20 percent of the ingredients, as advised by a swine nutrition specialist.
The pigs seem to like it, digging into their feed with happy grunts and snorts.
Scott Bush, president of the Templeton Rye Distillery, in Templeton, Iowa, the modern (and legal) version of Iowa's own Prohibition-era whiskey, feeds Duroc pigs on a small farm in Woodward, Iowa. (AFP Photo)
"It smells very good, almost like candy," said Scott Bush, founder and president of Templeton Rye Spirits.
The distillery has chosen for the test the Duroc breed, known for its distinctive auburn winter coat, succulence and heavy muscling.
Bush said the pigs were nearly at their ideal weight for eating: 210 pounds (95 kilos), with just a few weeks to go before heading to the slaughterhouse.
"How much mash is going to affect that taste, we don't know yet," he said.
The possibility that a whiff of whiskey will arise from ham, ribs or chops has whetted the appetites of scores of pork lovers: The distillery has received about 200 orders, from four countries.
Some of the orders for the 25 pigs were accompanied by long letters explaining why the customer desired the pig.
Pigs will be "shipped with head and feet" to customers paying $699 per animal, Bush said.
Aron Mackevicius, the executive chef at the 7M Grill in Omaha, Nebraska, is one of them. He enthusiastically described how he will cut up the pig and create a special menu, from appetizer to dessert.
"My family has a bakery and one of the specialties is the bacon bun," a small, slightly sweet bread stuffed with bacon, he said.
The chef said he hoped the pig "has a bit of a rye flavor" that will make it unique.
"When I first heard about the project I was excited that somebody was taking such a bold move, a very intriguing concept," he said.
According to Bush, the idea sprang up one night as the team chatted over glasses of Templeton Rye.
"All of us are from Iowa," the number-one pork producing state in the country, said Bush.
"But we also go all around the country to these gastro-culinary events, and the culinary world is still dominated by wine.
"But it is changing, especially with whiskey. The idea was that we are going to ask chefs to pair the pigs with cocktails of Templeton Rye."
Scott Bush, president of the Templeton Rye Distillery, in Templeton, Iowa, the modern (and legal) version of Iowa's own Prohibition-era whiskey, tends to his Duroc pigs on a small farm in Woodward, Iowa. (AFP Photo)
Capone bootlegger ties
Their whiskey is based on the recipe used by bootleggers in the tiny town of Templeton during Prohibition, the nearly 14-year period when alcoholic beverages were banned nationwide starting in 1920.
Templeton Rye was the beverage of choice of Chicago mobster and bootlegger Al Capone, Bush said.
"As it was illegal there are not a lot of documents, but a lot of oral history," he said, including from Capone's great-niece.
"Capone mostly sold Canadian whiskey but what he was drinking with friends was Templeton Rye."
It is this heritage the distillery wants to share, extending it through the pigs-to-plate project.
The project is "break-even for the company" but above all is "more of an experiment," Bush said, leaving the door open to doing it again.
Barrels of Templeton Rye Whiskey is seen on the bar at the distillery, in Templeton Iowa. (AFP Photo)