'Bacon Shake' takes milkshakes to new level

Bruce Horovitz

After restaurant chains have already plopped virtually everything imaginable — or unimaginable into a milkshake, it's finally come to this: bacon.

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Red Robin, the casual dining chain already widely-known for putting pretty wacky things into its milkshakes, has just rolled out the Beam-N-Bacon Boozy Shake. And, yes, that Beam part of the shake is, indeed, Jim Beam Maple Bourbon.

Eric Anthony Johnson | StockFood Creative | Getty Images

But it's the bacon, not the booze, that's causing a stir. There's social media buzz aplenty over what's actually placed in the shake to stir it: a long, candied strip of bacon. That's right, a strip of bacon baked in brown sugar is stuck into each shake as a veritable stirring spoon. And sprinkled on top are bacon bits.

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"People love the whole salty and sweet pairing," says Donna Ruch, Red Robin's master mixologist. "Bacon goes with so many things. We even see people putting bacon on top of bacon."

The Beam-N-Bacon Boozy Shake, which sells for $4.79, also is made with caramel and vanilla soft serve. Like all of the chain's so-called "Boozy Shakes," it is only sold to guests 21-and over. Over the past several years, Red Robin has attracted a cult following with its beer and wine shakes.

But it's the bacon that's raising eyebrows. In fact, Red Robin also has put that same candied bacon into its new Southern Charm Burger a $13.99 half pound Black Angus burger that's also coated in brown sugar and made with honey BBQ sauce, cheddar cheese, red onions, lettuce and mayo on a toasted ciabatta bun.

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For Red Robin's branding, the new embrace of bacon at a time the media is more infatuated with better-for-you foods is ingenious, says one branding guru.

"Bacon is the poster-food for anti-establishment, anti-health," says Peter Madden, CEO at the brand specialty firm AgileCat. "Given the ever-increasing health-based society we live in, this is a food that says 'we're breaking the rules, health be damned.' "

Last spring, Carl's Jr. took bacon to the max by rolling out the X-Tra Bacon Cheeseburger with four strips of bacon on a char-broiled beef patty, Two summers ago, Burger King even introduced a Bacon Sundae soft serve drizzled with chocolate fudge, caramel sauce and bacon crumbles.

In 2013, bacon sales climbed 9.5% to an all-time high of nearly $4 billion, reports Information Resources. Bacon sales in the U.S. have increased four consecutive years, says the research specialist.

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Both bacon-laden items are limited time offerings at Red Robin, through Nov. 2.

"Bacon and shakes are part of our DNA," says Ruch, who notes that more weird combos of the two might be coming.

Madden, the brand consultant, has little doubt about that. "The people they want to be attracted to such an item will be drawn to it like pigs to slop."

By Bruce Horovitz, USA Today