Bar Isabel Bone Marrow Luge
Bar Isabel / Rick O'Brien

On a hazy night in 2016, I found myself slurping sherry from a pair of animal bones with a friend. We scraped each bone clean of marrow beforehand, but the fatty residue imparted its rich, savory flavor onto the fortified wine. My friend stated, matter-of-factly: “I felt like we were kings.”

The borderline-feral act that was my first bone marrow luge occurred at Eastern Standard, a Boston bistro with tie-clad staff and a 60-foot marble bar. At Eastern Standard, bone marrow luges are not a rare sight: bar manager Diego Peña estimates that at least one occurs nightly, a pattern that’s held steady since he joined the staff more than seven years ago.

A back-of-the-envelope calculation suggests that Eastern Standard has witnessed thousands of bone marrow luges since the trend emerged. In that time, the bone marrow luge has evolved from a dare-you fad to a bonafide institution. If you haven’t done one yourself (and even if you have), you might have questions. Beginning with: whose idea was this?

Bone Marrow Luge Origins

Despite its primordial feel, the bone marrow luge is scarcely a decade old. According to a 2012 article in Portland Monthly, it was created in 2010 by Portland, Oregon bartender Jacob Grier, who requested a tequila luge for his plate of finished bone marrow at local steakhouse Laurelhurst Market. Grier soon added it to the menu at his own workplace, Metrovino. The invention spread to other cities and reached critical mass in 2012 when Anthony Bourdain partook during an episode of “The Layover” set in Toronto.

Why It Works

The bone marrow luge is more than just spectacle. It’s a way to experience the leftover bits of marrow in the bone (an inevitability) as the spirit cascades down the vessel and pulls out remaining bits of fat and oil. But it also allows spirits to be experienced in a new way. At Eastern Standard, amontillado sherry has long been the luging liquid of choice.

“If you already like the savory aspect of bone marrow, sherry, especially amontillado, has a little bit of that nuttiness that really balances with the salty, kind of umami aspect that’s happening,” Peña says. “It helps carry through the rest of those flavors.”

Beyond flavor, the experiential factor remains part of the draw.

“There is a communal, messy aspect to it. You kind of need a friend to help you out. It’s not a first-date thing, but it’s something you do with a group of friends that you get a memorable experience from.”

Bone Marrow at Bar Isabel in Toronto

Bar Isabel / AJ Fernando

Prepping The Luge

If members of your party have decided to do a bone marrow luge, Peña believes there should be group buy-in—with some exceptions. “If it’s a group, then everyone is doing it, we’re all involved here—unless there’s a vegetarian.”

Once the carnivores have reached a consensus, they should first check that as much marrow has been scraped from the bone as possible.

“Ideally you don’t want a big gob of bone marrow coming down,” Peña says. “Although it can happen, and it’s weird when it does, in a good way,” he adds.

All those partaking should have two good, restaurant-quality napkins on hand. One to use as a makeshift bib in case of drips, and the other for holding the bone itself, which may be greasy and will likely still be hot.

At Eastern Standard, Peña uses mini carafes to hold the luging liquid. He finds that between an ounce-and-a-quarter or an ounce-and-a-half is the sweet spot for the spirit

“Sometimes the problem with luges is that there’s too much of one ingredient, and you’re there for a while and it spills everywhere.”

With those pieces in place, the luging can begin.

How to Do a Bone Marrow Luge

Take your napkin-covered dominant hand and use it to hold the bone directly against your mouth, tilted upward to let gravity do its work. Then have a friend pour the spirit. If it’s a concave bone, Peña recommends pouring into the deepest part of the bone away from you. For a convex bone, pour into the middle.

Drink the spirit as it arrives in one, uninterrupted flow—and you’re done.

“It’s a quick, fast experience, and there’s a little bit of clean-up afterward. Usually what ends up happening is ‘now it’s my turn to do it to you’ and that’s where the experience is made,” Peña says.

Diego Pena of Eastern Standard

Diego Pena of Eastern Standard

There’s Room To Experiment

Amontillado sherry graces most bones at Eastern Standard (one case a month goes toward luges), but the activity Bourdain called “extremely anti-social and against all standards of decency” isn’t precisely rule-bound. Toronto’s Bar Isabel favors Calvados for its luges, and has also employed Georgian Chacha, a grape brandy (internally, such luges are referred to as “Chacha Slides”).

When considering what other spirits to use, Peña says that the flavors of the marrow itself must be considered first.

“You’ve got to think about where the savory aspect of meats can combine well with other flavors. Smoke obviously goes very well with meat, so ingredients that have a smoke aspect to them, either an Islay scotch or a smoky mezcal.”

But smokiness isn’t the only qualification.

“Vegetal tequilas go really well, and I’ve seen people do bourbon. We’ve done bone marrow with a little maple syrup and then finished that off with whiskey.”

Even cocktails, when split into smaller sizes, can be utilized. What Peña finds important is that said cocktail features an element that pairs with the marrow, like aromatized wine.

“Fat works really well with a little bit of acidity, and wine-based products have the acidity to balance that out… any cocktail with a vermouth component, like a Manhattan, works in that sense. A Negroni would work really well. I think it might be a little too bitter, but it’ll play just right,” he says.

Pass It On

Today, Peña estimates that just 25 percent of those partaking in marrow luges at Eastern Standard are doing it for the first time. Typically, those neophytes are in a group with marrow luge veterans.

“Say you have a group of friends. One guy says ‘let’s do luges,’ and at least one person in that group has never done a luge before. It’s like when someone says ‘I’ve never had an oyster before,’ and then everybody will get around [them] and say, ‘You have to try East Coast Atlantic oysters.'”

If you’ve done a bone marrow luge and enjoyed it, do your friends a favor and be “that guy” next time.

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