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Vinegar in Cocktails

“Psssttt…wanna drink some vinegar?”

Here’s a surprise: Yes, you do. Vinegar in cocktails can be awesome.

You wouldn’t want to drink a lot of it straight – though our gourmet food specialist enjoyed sipping some recently – but you wouldn’t want to drink a cupful of straight lemon juice either. But in small amounts, both add a certain appetizing tang to cocktails.

Bartender Kelly Slagle of Hearth Restaurant in NY’s East Village has been experimenting with vinegar in cocktails for a couple of years now, combining vinegar with juices, sugar and spices and simmering them into caramelized concoctions like the Orange Cardamom Gastrique. The end result is a bit of tang and backbone that cuts through sweeter cocktails.

Of course, this isn’t a new technique – in fact, it’s thousands of years old. In Colonial America, for example, vinegar-based shrubs were common. Historically, these white and apple cider vinegars were used in fruit shrub cocktails. However, modern-day mixologists are more likely to reach for aged balsamic vinegars or sherry-based vinegars for their concoctions.

At Tales of the Cocktail a few weeks back, Slagle was tapped to present a seminar called “Vinegar: The Other Acid.” A few takeaways from that seminar on using vinegar in cocktails:

•Gastriques are a reduction of vinegar fruit and sugar, originally made as a sauce. If you’ve ever made simple syrup, the process is similar.

•By comparison, a shrub is an uncooked vinegar concoction. They date back to Colonial times, when refrigeration was lacking and vinegar (or alcohol) was commonly used to pickle fruit for later use in refreshing beverages. (Note: That said, I’ve seen modern shrub recipes that do involve simmering a shrub into a syrup.)

•Tinctures are another way vinegar is used in cocktails; bartenders can use vinegar instead of alcohol to act as solvent to absorb flavors. Just three drops of a fennel vinegar tincture in a Manhattan or Martini can brighten up the drink and add a touch of acid. To make a tincture, just combine a lot of the flavoring agent with the vinegar of your choice in a bottle or jar and shake daily.

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