If you've been noticing vinegar showing up in cocktails around town, there's a good chance its thanks to Lindera Farms Vinegar producer Daniel Liberson. The cook-turned-fermentation geek forages for ingredients like mulberries, violets, and spicebush in Virginia and transforms them into vinegars that are used at some of the top restaurants and bars in D.C. and New York. He's also the subject of this week's Y&H column.
But Liberson isn't the only one making unique vinegars used in cocktails. The team at chef Erik Bruner Yang's Maketto and Honeycomb in Union Market has been experimenting with flavors like beet, hibiscus, maple, turmeric, sumac, peppermint, rosemary, and onion. (That last one is used in bloody marys and vesper martinis.) Maketto serves its vinegars in cocktails for $10, with palm sugar and soda water for $5, and on their own for $2. They're also bottled up and sold at Honeycomb.
Maketto Beverage Director Colin Sugalski has been working with Woodberry Kitchen alums Isaiah Billington and Sarah Conezio, who run Bruner-Yang's Honeycomb Asian grocery in Union Market, to produce the vinegars using ingredients from local farms. The vinegars are not infused. Rather, they're produced from fermented plants.
"It's a big thing for us just because it's a big part of Southeast Asian culture," Sugalski says. "They're good for the heat—whether it's the weather or the food."
In Southeast Asia, drinking vinegars would traditionally be served with soda water and palm sugar—not straight up. But Maketto serves shot glasses with the stuff so people can learn more about it and really taste the flavors.
Sugalski says the vinegars provide a way to add brightness to a drink without relying as much on citrus. The restaurant is also also looking to experiment with verjus (the pressed juice from unripened grapes or other sour fruits) and other acidic local ingredients.
"The goal isn't really just to be 'Oh we're this cool, hip bar that's using local stuff,'"Sugalski says. Instead, he wants to show people that certain cocktails don't necessarily need lime or lemon juice to work. "We're trying to change people's perspectives a little bit to try to affect change on a greater scale."
Photo by Jessica Sidman