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Cocktail Hour: Vinegar Adds A Touch Of Tang

Spring Sparkle cocktail by Carlo Splendorini, Mina Group

There are many opinions about what to drink when eating a dish laced with vinegar, from Lambrusco with Balsamic to Muscadet with a cider vinegar mignonette to accentuate raw oysters. But using vinegar in a drink is all the rage right now, as the fermentation craze extends to mixology.

Chefs and bartenders are increasingly turning to vinegar, even making their own, to add another level of flavor to their drinks. They might barrel-age certain cocktails, essentially fermenting them twice.

“Vinegar is another flavor dimension to play with,” said Liz Grossman, the managing editor of Plate magazine, which devoted its entire winter issue to the subject of fermentation, including cocktails. “It adds a creaminess.”

Drinking vinegar spans styles

Cleveland-based chef Jonathon Sawyer of Greenhouse Tavern makes his own vinegar to go into barrel-aged cocktails; Andy Ricker in Portland, Ore., founder of the popular Pok Pok restaurant, came back from a trip to Thailand a few years ago inspired to mix tartly sweet vinegars with club soda, which he considers an ideal pairing for spicy Asian food.

Ricker sells a line of drinking vinegars in apple, honey, tamarind, pineapple and other flavors called Som Drinking Vinegar ( Only organic cane sugar and natural flavoring are added to the natural vinegar; he recommends a 4:1 ratio of soda water to vinegar to help cut the acidity of the honey and apple varieties in particular, which tend to taste less sweet than some of the others.

The notion is not that far off from the idea of shrubs, drinking vinegars made by macerating fruit in vinegar, then cooking it with sugar or honey.

Bartender Carlo Splendorini, who heads the Michael Mina Group of restaurants, prefers to work with balsamic vinegar, finding that the warm flavors of these vinegars from Modena bring depth, nuance and a hint of sweetness to his cocktails. Here is one of his spring-inspired creations.

Spring Sparkle

Created by Carlo Splendorini, Mina Group

Serves 1


1 sugar cube soaked in good quality balsamic vinegar

½ ounce rum


Orange peel for garnish


1. Place the sugar cube at the bottom of a Champagne flute.

2. Add the rum and slowly top with Champagne.

3. Garnish with a twist of orange peel.

Top photo: Spring Sparkle cocktail. Credit: Courtesy of Mina Group

Zester Daily contributor Virginie Boone is a Sonoma Valley-based wine writer. She has reported on the Northern California wine scene for the Santa Rosa Press Democrat and its affiliate food and wine magazine, Savor, and is a contributing reviewer of California wines for Wine Enthusiast.

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