Thursday, March 4, 2021
March 4, 2021

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Food & Drink: Add vinegar to mix to elevate cocktails

Drinking-vinegars, also called shrubs, add flavor to spirits

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Gabby Navidi of Navidi's Olive Oils and Vinegars refills a bottle of olive oil.
Gabby Navidi of Navidi's Olive Oils and Vinegars refills a bottle of olive oil. (Rachel Pinsky for The Columbian) Photo Gallery

People have been drinking vinegar for thousands of years to purify water or as a tonic to prevent or cure diseases. Despite modern water sanitation and an abundance of healthy food, drinking-vinegars are making a comeback.

Claims of health benefits have hooked some people on apple cider-based tonics such as Mind Your Manna’s bracing Fire Brew. Bartenders and mixologists have rediscovered shrubs (fruit, sugar and vinegar drinks) and the unique and unexpected flavors that vinegar can add to spirits.

Many people associate vinegar with the astringent white vinegar used for pickling or apple cider vinegar with its cloud of goo forming on the bottom of the bottle. But there’s a wide array of vinegars in sumptuous flavors such as pomegranate balsamic, coconut white balsamic and wild blueberry that are easily sippable. Navidi’s Olive Oils and Vinegars in downtown Camas has several rows of vinegars (along with olive oil) to sample.

On a recent visit, Gabby Navidi shared that vinegar adds a special layer of flavor to cocktails and mocktails. She likes the Cara Cara white vanilla balsamic with sparkling water. Honey ginger white balsamic with a bit of sparkling water, lime juice, fresh mint and vodka makes for a quick and easy Moscow Mule. A bit of wild blueberry goes well with whiskey. Navidi’s has a little cocktail guide that you can buy to assist in your own cocktail experiments.

After an afternoon of sipping luscious vinegar at Navidi’s, I came home with five bottles of vinegar (Vermont maple balsamic, honey ginger white balsamic, wild blueberry balsamic, coconut white balsamic and cinnamon pear balsamic) and a vague idea that I would start making cocktails with them. I quickly realized that I’m a lazy, unskilled bartender and decided to contact Sara Newton, beverage director at Amaro’s Table for help.

“We’ve done a couple of different shrubs since opening and they all worked really well,” Newton emailed. “The easiest one that I usually do is adding 1/2 ounce to 3/4 ounce of balsamic vinegar to a strawberry lemonade. You’d be surprised at how much depth a little balsamic adds to the simple strawberry lemonade.”

She recommended the book “Shrubs” by Michael Dietsch and agreed to let me bring my vinegars to Amaro’s Table for her to concoct cocktails. A week later, I met up with Newton. The coconut white balsamic, the honey ginger balsamic and the cinnamon pear balsamic caught her eye. She got out three drinking glasses and put a bit of each in each glass to taste.

She used the honey ginger to make a Moscow Mule: 3/4 ounce vinegar, 1 1/2 ounce vodka, 1/2 ounce lime juice with fresh mint. She didn’t have to add any sweetener (such as simple syrup) to the drink because the vinegar had sweetness.

Then Newton made an Old Fashioned with the pear cinnamon vinegar: 2 ounces bourbon, 1 ounce vinegar and a couple dashes of bitters shaken and then placed in a squat glass with a large square ice cube.

“This would be great for Thanksgiving,” she said. “Think of these as your syrup flavor. It will add a couple levels to a cocktail.”

She added the coconut vinegar to pineapple juice, creating a beach-friendly mocktail.

Then she made a whiskey sour: 1/2 ounce Vermont maple vinegar with 2 ounces of lemon juice and a serving of whiskey.

“A good place to start,” Newton said, “is 1/2 ounce of vinegar per drink.”

Vinegar has natural acidity so you may need to adjust the lemon or lime juice in a cocktail.

“I love vinegar,” she said. “It’s a fun way to add another level of interest.”


Rachel Pinsky can be emailed at couveeats@gmail.com. You can follow her on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram @couveeats.

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