Try Vinegar in Your Cocktail

June 29 2012 - 3:30 PM

Some savory French dishes call for a sauce known as a gastrique that is made from caramelized sugar, vinegar and herbs or fruit. It’s easy to imagine how a drizzle of this over wild boar could punch up the dish with fresh, zippy flavors, but you might be surprised to hear it can fit well in cocktails, too.

Most people associate vinegar with a sour flavor, but when used in a gastrique, this sour sensation is offset by sweet sugar to form a balanced sauce. Sound familiar? In cocktails, we often pull the same trick, but by using citrus as our sour ingredient and then balancing with simple syrup or sweet liqueurs. A cocktail gastrique, then, can be thought of as just a fancy mixer.

There is variation in the terminology. In Southeast Asian cultures (especially Thailand), these gastriques are known as drinking vinegars and are diluted with sparkling water to make refreshing nonalcoholic sodas. Early American colonists were also fond of this style of drink, which they called shrub, partly out of necessity. Abundant fruit crops would be preserved in vinegar at times of bounty, and drunk with water, herbs and fresher fruit as garnish in times of scarcity. A slug of brandy might find its way in there too. Today’s barkeep might his creations any of the above.

Now that you (hopefully) are on board, let’s whip up something seasonal. It’s late June, and here in the Midwest that means cherry harvests are popping up in local markets. These bright red bounties will make the perfect flavoring for a cocktail gastrique.

Cherry-Balsamic Gastrique

1 cup sugar
1 cup balsamic vinegar
2 cups cherries (~ 30)
zest from one orange

  1. Mix the sugar with the vinegar and bring to just a simmer, stirring so the sugar fully dissolves. Add the cherries and zest, squishing the warm cherries with a wooden spoon to release flavor.
  2. Reduce the heat and let the gastrique thicken for about 15 minutes.
  3. Allow the syrup to cool and pour through a mesh strainer to separate out the skins and pits.
  4. Store the finished gastrique in a sealed bottle in the fridge. If you don’t plan to use the entire batch within a few days, add 1 oz vodka to lengthen the shelf life.

If you want to go the tasty, but nonalcoholic route, stop here; mix one part gastrique to 4 parts club soda or sparkling water and you’ll have a fancy, yet funky shrub perfect for sipping on the front porch. Personally, though, I find that this gastrique really shines alongside aged spirits. Its deep flavors complement and suss out details buried in dark liquors. Here are two originals that highlight what I mean.

The Show-Me Kate (left) and Cherry Season (Photos by Molly Sturdevant)

The Show-Me Kate

1/2 oz cognac
1 oz cherry-balsamic gastrique
7 drops Bittercube Jamaican #2 Bitters (or a dash of another style bitters)
4 oz club soda
1 wedge of lime

Shake the Cognac, gastrique and bitters with ice and strain into a rocks glass with fresh ice. Squeeze the lime wedge over the drink and top with club soda.

A deep Burgundy, this drink is an addictive fruit punch with a wicked velvety mouthfeel. It is light on booze, but the half ounce of Cognac is enough to give it a concentrated base that melds naturally with the other flavors, while the soda lengthens the overpowering gastrique into a surprising sipper.

Cherry Season

2 oz rye whiskey
3/4 oz sweet vermouth
1/2 oz cherry-balsamic gastrique
2 dashes orange bitters
2 dashes Angostura bitters
Orange peel, for garnish

Stir the ingredients over ice and strain into a chilled cocktail glass. Garnish with a flamed orange peel.

The Cherry Season has a rich depth and thicker mouthfeel than a standard Manhattan and the gastrique dyes it a darker, ruddy color. There is sweetness right up front and a curious je ne sais quoi from the vinegar, but the finish carries the bitter, herbal vermouth notes well.

–David McCowan


Spiced Beet Cocktail

Country of Origin: USA
Main Spirit: tequila

tequila, mezcal, beet, ginger, lime, lemon, brown sugar

Love ’em or hate ’em, beets are a staple of spring farmers markets. And though they don’t appear in cocktails very often, the earthy little buggers actually pair remarkably well with grassy, vegetal tequila.

In this recipe from Market-Fresh-Mixology: Cocktails for Every Season, the two come together with some ginger spice to make a bold, dark stunner of a cocktail. Using a little bit of mezcal as suggested below will provide a complex layer of smoky goodness, but if you don’t have a bottle handy you can round the tequila up to a full 2 ounces.

Read more about market-inspired cocktails here and make sure to check out our chat with this drink’s creator, Bridget Albert.

Spiced Beet Cocktail
Bridget Albert with Mary Barranco, Market-Fresh Mixology: Cocktails for Every Season

  • 2 oz spiced beet juice (see below)
  • 1 1/2 oz silver (blanco) tequila
  • 1/2 oz mezcal
  • 2/3 oz lemon juice
  • 1/3 oz simple syrup
  • 1 beet leaf, garnish

To mixing glass, add silver tequila, mezcal, cooled beet juice, lemon and simple syrup. Add ice to tin. Shake well. Strain into a cocktail glass and garnish with a beet leaf.

Spiced Beet CocktailSpiced Beet Juice
(makes about 2 ounces)

  • 1 beet (peeled and sliced)
  • Juice of 3 limes
  • 2 barspoons brown sugar
  • Pinch of ground ginger

To saute pan, add sliced beet, lime juice, sugar and ground ginger. Cover and simmer on medium heat for about 10 minutes, or until beets are tender. Stir occasionally. Remove beets. Let liquid cool.

Photo and recipe courtesy of Agate Publishing.


Warding Circle

Country of Origin: USA
Main Spirit: rye whiskey

rye whiskey, amaro, sherry, salt

Mike Ryan’s chocolatey broVo Amaro No. 14 is great for mixing, adding a rich depth and a layer of savory thyme. This Manhattan-ish drink will drive the last of the winter chills away.

For the rye, Ryan suggests using something 90 proof or above “with some backbone” like Wild Turkey 101 or Bulleit and for the sherry, he suggest Lustau. “Garnish,” he says, “with a roaring fire and a blanket and a view of a chilly mountainside.”

Learn more about the broVo Spirits Amaro project here.

broVo Amaro CocktailsWarding Circle
Mike Ryan, Sable, Chicago

1 1/2 oz rye
1/2 oz broVo Amaro No 14
3/4 oz pedro ximenez sherry
1 very small pinch of salt (kosher, not iodized)

Stir all ingredients together with ice and strain over a large chunk of ice, or serve up in a chilled cocktail coupe.


Bitter Giuseppe No. 16

Country of Origin: USA
Main Spirit: Amaro

Amaro, sweet vermouth, lemon, orange bitters

Stephen Cole – one of the forces behind The Barrelhouse Flat and Lone Wolf – originally constructed this curious drink using Cynar, an artichoke-based amaro with rich flavors of chocolate and light citrus. As one of his favorite amari, Cole authored his broVo Amaro No. 16 as an homage to it, but with unique additions such as sandlewood and oris root as well as a spicy peppercorn finish.

Using Amaro No. 16 in place of the Cynar changes the drink a bit, but both liqueurs are built to expand when mixed; those tight complex flavors gain a bit of space to spread out and shine.

Learn more about the broVo Spirits Amaro project here.

broVo Amaro CocktailsBitter Giuseppe No. 16

Adapted from a recipe by Stephen Cole, The Barrelhouse Flat and Lone Wolf, Chicago

-2 oz broVo Amaro No. 16
-1 oz Carpano Antica sweet vermouth
-1/4 oz fresh lemon juice
-6 dashes Regan’s Orange Bitters
-lemon peel, garnish

Stir ingredients with ice and strain into a rocks glass over fresh ice. Garnish with a lemon peel.


The Embittered

Country of Origin: USA
Main Spirit: Irish whiskey

Irish whiskey, lemon, simple syrup, Angostura bitters, wine

Irish whiskey can sometimes be so light and easy-drinking that it gets covered up and lost in a cocktail. But the more robust varieties – like those we recommend as our top picks – can stand-up well when mixed.

This highball from Hubbard Inn in Chicago is a play on the New York Sour, a classic traditionally made with full-bodied Scotch and a float of wine. Here, barman Jason Felsenthal swaps in Jameson Black Barrel for a sweeter, lighter base, but adds a few heavy dashes of Angostura bitters to make things snap.

When mixed, the drink should have a lovely two-tone effect… the dark wine and bitters creeping their tendrils into the lighter cocktail below. Stir to combine. Or not.

The EmbitteredThe Embittered
Jason Felsenthal, Hubbard Inn, Chicago

2 ounces Jameson Black Barrel Whiskey
1 ounce lemon juice
1 ounce simple syrup
1/2 ounce Malbec wine
2 dashes of Angostura Bitters

Combine the whiskey, lemon and simple syrup in a cocktail shaker with ice and shake until cold. Strain into a highball glass with fresh ice, then dash in the bitters. Carefully pour the wine over the back of a bar spoon held just above the drink so the wine floats on the surface, creating a nice two-tone effect.


North Shore Gimlet

Country of Origin: USA
Main Spirit: gin

gin, lime, lavender, Bittercube Door County Hops bitters

Nick Kosevich & Ira Koplowitz of Bittercube Bitters recently helped launched the cocktail program at Blue Jacket in Milwaukee, WI. On the debut menu is a lovely, light riff on the classic gin gimlet using Chicago’s own North Shore gin and Bittercube’s floral, bright limited edition Door County Hops bitters.

Blue Jacket makes this drink with Mighty Gin, a 110 proof powerhouse that’s available to restaurants and bars only, but you can substitute your favorite London dry to nearly equal effect. But if you want to really stay true to the name, swap in one of North Shore’s other two more available gins. Go with Distiller’s Gin No. 6 if you want to ramp up the citrus and floral notes or pick Distiller’s Gin No. 11 is you want to play up the juniper.


North Shore GimletNorth Shore Gimlet
Nick Kosevich & Ira Koplowitz, Bittercube

2 oz North Shore Distillery Mighty Gin
3/4 oz homemade lavender syrup*
3/4 oz fresh squeezed lime juice
14 drops Bittercube Door County Hops Bitters
thin slice of lime, garnish

Shake the ingredients with ice and strain into a chilled cocktail glass. Float a thin slice of lime on top as garnish.


*Homemade Lavender Syrup

1/2 teaspoon dried lavender
1 cup sugar
1 cup water

Combine sugar and water in a pot over medium heat and stir until just dissolved. Reduce heat to low and add the lavender, simmering for 10 minutes. Remove from heat and let cool. Strain through a fine mesh strainer. Lavender syrup will keep for one week in a sealed container in the refrigerator, or you may add 1 oz vodka after you strain as a preservative to extend the shelf life.

Read more about Bittercube Bitters here. Image courtesy of Bittercube.


Rosehip Daisy

Country of Origin: USA
Main Spirit: tequila

tequila, lime, Koval Rosehip, Bittercube Jamaican #2 Bitters

The daisy category of drinks is one of the most fool-proof and easily riffed-upon styles. Combine a healthy slug of spirit with sugar, liqueur and citrus and it almost always works.

This cocktail is a play on the most familiar daisy of them all: the margarita. Instead of accenting the tequila with an orange liqueur, here Koval’s rosehip liqueur takes things in a more savory direction with hints of baking spice. This is further ramped up by topping with Bittercube’s Jamaican Bitters #2 which complement with grapefruit and hibiscus notes.


Rosehip Daisy
Nick Kosevich & Ira Koplowitz, Bittercube

1 1/2 oz tequila
3/4 oz lime
1/2 oz Koval Rosehip Liqueur
3/4 oz simple syrup
14 drops Bittercube Jamaican #2 Bitters

Shake and strain into a chilled cocktail glass.

Read more about Bittercube Bitters here.


Enjoy the Silence

Country of Origin: USA
Main Spirit: Armangnac

Armangnac, peach, Bittercube blackstrap bitters, Bittercube Jamaican #2 bitters

Cognac is the world’s most famous brandy, and there are plenty of delicious options out there. But Amangnac – made a few regions away, but still in France – is actually a lot more fun. Whereas Cognac aims to be smooth, Armangac aims to be flavorful and robust. It’s a little funkier, a little earthier and a little livelier. But perhaps most importantly, it’s also a little cheaper.

This variation on a Sazerac cocktail plays up the funky notes with Bittercube’s Blackstrap and Jamaican #2 bitters, while bringing out the inherent fruit with the peach liqueur.

Enjoy the Silence CocktailEnjoy the Silence
Nick Kosevich & Ira Koplowitz, Bittercube

2 oz Armangnac
1/2 oz peach liqueur
1/4 oz simple syrup
11 drops Bittercube Blackstrap bitters
Bittercube Jamaican #2 bitters, rinse

Rinse a small, chilled rocks glass with Bittercube Jamaican #2 bitters and discard any excess. Stir the ingredients in a mixing glass with ice and strain into the prepared glass.

Read more about Bittercube Bitters here.


The Erudite Scholar

Country of Origin: USA
Main Spirit: vokda

Karlsson's vodka, vodka, vermouth, Cointreau, absinthe

The Erudite ScholarThis martini variation plays to old fashioned flavors. The orange liqueur and absinthe blend seemlessly with the complex blanco vermouth to provide a curious, yet enticing flourish to the viscous and rich Karlsson’s Gold vodka. And don’t skimp on the garnish! Expressing lemon oils over the drink really cements this one together.

The Erudite Scholar
David McCowan

2 oz Karlsson’s Gold vodka
3/4 oz blanco vermouth
1/4 oz Cointreau
1 tsp absinthe
lemon twist, garnish

In a chilled coupe glass, add the absinthe and rotate to coat the glass. Discard any excess. Stir the remaining ingredients over ice and strain into the rinsed coupe. Garnish with a lemon twist.

Learn more about Karlsson’s and get other cocktail ideas here.


Karlsson's Garden & Tonic

Country of Origin: USA
Main Spirit: Vodka

Karlsson's vodka, vodka, elderflower liqueur, maraschino liqueur, celery bitters, cucumber, mint, lime, mint, tonic

Garden & TonicThe Garden & Tonic was created as a gin and tonic variation that skewed savory. Potent celery bitters pop and compliment the other green flavors of cucumber, lime and mint. Here, I’ve swapped Karlsson’s Gold in for the gin since it is a particularly forceful vodka that can stand up to all the vegetation.

Karlsson’s Garden & Tonic
A variation of the “Garden & Tonic” from Wayne Collins and Naren Young

1 1/2 oz Karlsson’s Gold vodka
1/2 oz elderflower liqueur (such as St. Germain) or maraschino liqueur (such as Luxardo)
2 dash celery bitters
2 lime wedges
2 cucumber wheels
1 sprig mint, and 1 more for garnish
1 cucumber wheel dusted with ground black pepper, garnish

Build the drink over ice in a highball glass and top with tonic. Garnish with a cucumber wheel dusted with ground black pepper and a large sprig of mint.

Learn more about Karlsson’s and get other cocktail ideas here.