Since I write about cocktails, I see all manner of ludicrous pitches for new things in cocktails. Usually they're some silly novelty product, e.g. the eye-catching but vile tasting Viniq liqueur. It gets a quick once-over, sometimes a little snicker at the ridiculousness, and then promptly forgotten.
Then, deep in the Chow Bella Secret Lair, one of my colleagues told me something that was one of the craziest cocktailian innovations I've heard recently. Someone told her that when making cocktails, you can substitute vinegar for lemon or lime juice.
I furrowed my brow, confused at the idea. Why on earth would you add vinegar when lemon and lime juice do the job perfectly well?
The more I thought about it... Why wouldn't it work? Both serve the same purpose, adding acid. Never mind that one is citric acid while the other is acetic acid. The trick is that since vinegar is more acidic than citrus juice, you use half as much.
The concept of adding vinegar to cocktails is hardly new. After all, shrub syrups have been around since Colonial times. However, I've never seen vinegar added on its own as a straight cocktail ingredient.
I'll admit, when I started eyeing my liquor cabinet for potential mates to the vinegar, I was a little nervous. What's the best route to try? Do I make a classic cocktail such as a Margarita or Sidecar, or do I branch out to try something new? My preferred route went somewhere down the middle. I took a basic formula (the Margarita's 3 parts alcohol, 2 parts liqueur, 1 part acid) and adapted it to new ingredients since the vinegar turns the drink into something entirely new anyway.
For the vinegar to pick, I'd reach for pretty much anything but white vinegar, as its sharp neutral flavor profile doesn't bring much of anything but acid. I started with red wine vinegar since it's all but ubiquitous in any kitchen. Next up came the supporting ingredient. For some reason, my eye kept landing on a bottle of raspberry liqueur, so in it went. Last was the base spirit. I was thinking about using tequila, but bourbon won out in the end.
Since there wasn't any juice in the formula, I decided to stir the mixture rather than shake. I gave the finished drink a taste. It was utterly mind-blowing. The vinegar added a little sharp zip, but at the same time complemented the raspberry and bourbon possibly a little better than the lemon juice I would normally pair with bourbon. Since the raspberry liqueur is quite sweet, I added a few extra drops of vinegar than I would have with a drier liqueur like Cointreau. I added a dash of orange bitters, and everything came together in perfect harmony.
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Now that I have proof of concept, the sky is the limit. There's a whole new world of cocktails waiting for us, and it's been right in the pantry all this time. There is one small conundrum. What do you call this brand new class of drinks? I think I'll call this particular formula...
Nouveau Rouge 1-1/2 ounces bourbon 1 ounce raspberry liqueur 1/3 ounce red wine vinegar 1 dash orange bitters
Stir well with ice. Strain into a rocks glass, either straight up or on the rocks.