You’ve heard of vinegar in salads, soups and sometimes DIY hair masks. If you’re a little more experimental, you’ve tried vinegars made from wine, rice, apples and other fruits.
And if you swear by Chinese takeout, you’ve received zillions of little plastic packets with synthetic vinegar and floaty dead chillies.
Sounds like you’re in a casual relationship with the bottle(s) stashed in your kitchen. And while you might get intimate every now and then (aka, Asian leftover nights) that’s pretty much the best it gets.
Like that boy from the IT Department you Friendzoned, but occasionally flirt with cause your laptop needs fixing.
So I am here to tell you that its time to change that relationship status from Single to It’s Complicated. Cause vinegars are one of the best things to happen to your Drink. Yes, I said Drink.
A Delicious History
Let’s rewind a little. All the way to the 17th century when housewives and doctors used vinegar and sugar to preserve fruit, as they had no refrigeration. These were called Shrubs or drinking vinegars – served with soda or water. Shrubs were even considered a cure to fevers! Of course it wasn’t long before someone realised they made for nifty additions to spirits. I wrote about them in detail recently, you can read more about them here.
Hay Harvest in New York, 1943. Photo courtesy Library of Congress Archive.
Vinegar was also noted for its use in Switchel or a punch served to thirsty farmers during hay season in the 17th century. While it originated in the Caribbean, it soon spread to American Colonies. It was made using ginger, molasses and cider vinegar and was popular for being ‘refreshing’. Like a 17th century Gatorade.
Fast Forward to modern day bartending where vinegars are slowly inching their way into mainstream mixes. The Dirty Martini is a classic example of vinegar in a cocktail. You know you love them after a hard day at work! If you’ve frequented bars in America or Europe, you’d have come across Picklebacks or simply pickle juice that follows a shot of whisky.
Vinegars in Drinks – Not as weird as you think
That’s because it does absolute wonders to a cocktail!
Let’s take a moment to understand what it does to your drink. Take a simple drink – say a Mojito. Now picture the sour notes in the drink, i.e that of lime. What it’s doing is balancing out the flavour – equal amounts of sweet and sour. Like a good Maharashtrian fish curry.
Bear with the geekiness for a second more.
Lime or lemon encourages citrus notes in a drink to stand out, vinegars tend to balance out the acidity by making the drink more rounded and robust.
Which means you can taste the acidity but subtly. Not in a way that your palate will revolt or even register. “Using vinegar or shrubs as a base opens possibilities of many other flavor combinations including the elusive umami and spicy.” Says Arijit Bose, Brand Ambassador for Monkey 47, who in my opinion also makes the world’s best old fashioneds with not one, but three whiskies.
Arijit believes that vinegar makes a great alternative to traditional citric elements like lemon, “The best one I had was a beetroot shrub made with apple vinegar which became a binding element to a beautiful margarita, with a pretty intense character and depth.”
Vinegars in Drinks are more common than you think
Over the last year, I noticed a steady rise in vinegar based drinks across bars in India. I spoke to Yangdup Lama who’s Cocktails & Dreams in Delhi NCR, has been on the forefront of craft cocktailing, “We use Vinegars often at our bar to flavour cocktails and most of the time we use fruit vinegar. The response has been quite positive. Though sometimes, considering our sweet palate in this part of the world we have to substitute it with home made syrups.”
The biggest advantage however of using vinegar as a syrup or as a shrub is that it extends to people who don’t drink. As Arijit said “A lot of guests who don’t partake in alcohol consumption often prefer having shrubs mixed with sparkling water or ginger beer for their social drinking needs, and bartenders are happy to comply.”
The good news, however, is that you don’t have to go too far to try a vinegar cocktail. You can start right at your home. Yangdup Lama suggests using Apple Cider Vinegar to begin with. It makes a great base for a simple shrub paired with seasonal fruits which is a great way to experiment with the trend.
You could also go bigger by incorporating vinegar straight into your drink. I tried a fantastic drink by Ankur Kashyap, a rising star in Delhi’s mixology circuit. He mixes Bacardi Gold with equal parts of red wine vinegar and caster sugar to create a drink that is beautifully balanced and oh-so-smooth.
The Invincible Spirit
Notes: Spirit Forward, Smooth, Fruity
- Bacardi Gold – 50ml
- Martini Bianco – 10ml
- Red Wine vinegar – 1 bar spoon/5ml
- Caster Sugar – 1 bar spoon/ 1 tsp
- Herbstura – 6 drops (1 part Aungoustra + 1 part Herbsaint) *substitute Herbsaint with Ricard/Absinthe/Pernod)
- Garnish – 3 Raisins soaked in a mix of water & orange peel. Place them on a cocktail pick
- Place ice in a coupe glass.
- Put all the ingredients in a cocktail shaker, add ice and shake for a few seconds.
- Remove the ice from the glass and strain in the cocktail.
- Garnish with the raisins and serve with style.
Try this cocktail at your next party to wow even the least experimental drinkers. Sante!