The O-town Scene

May 10, 2012

The O-town Scene - Oneonta, NY

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Virgin Cocktails Just Got Mature By Emily Popek Virgin cocktails — even those that try to be sophisticated — are usually a bit disappointing. Nonalcoholic versions of well-known recipes such as pina coladas or margaritas are syrupy concoctions that make the imbiber feel like he or she should be sitting at the kiddy table. Plain old soda is boring. And seltzer mixed with fruit juice, while mildly tasty and refreshing, lacks that certain zing that makes a great cocktail great. So what's the answer to making a great nonalcoholic cocktail? It turns out it's vinegar. As crazy as it sounds, there is actually a case to be made for drinking vinegar, on purpose. For one thing, the fermented grain liquid has been used for centuries to refresh dur- all- lack- speaks are we of the Vinegar Drinks SwitchelS The two most common vinegar-based beverages of American origin are switchels and shrubs. According to local-food magazine Ver- mont's Local Banquet, the switchel was "a colonial era proto-Gatorade, a source of both hydration and electrolyte replenish- ment." The mixture of cider vinegar, water, ginger and a sweetener (honey, maple syrup, molasses or sugar can be used) was mixed up in great quantities and carried out to thirsty farmers working in the fields. The robustly flavored beverage can be en- and revitalize people ing hot weather. The knowing Internet is ing in information that to why this is; but who to question the wisdom ages? joyed straight up, or mixed with sparkling water for a milder treat. To turn 1 cup of water into switchel, add ¼ teaspoon ginger, 2 tablespoons of apple cider vinegar and 4 teaspoons of the sweetener of your choice (recipe from To make it truly great, be sure to use a high-quality vinegar, such as Dr. Bragg's. Fresh ginger will give it more of a kick, and a combi- nation of sweeteners (such as sugar plus molasses) can introduce subtle variations to the flavor. Fruit flavors such as lemon, pear or pomegranate would be welcome in a switchel in the form of juices, flavored syrups or flavored water. ShrubS Unlike switchels, which were meant to be consumed straight-up, shrubs are just a base for a beverage, but one that the New York Times called "a revelation: shockingly refreshing, tart and fruity." According to the Times, shrubs came to the American colonies from England, but date back to ancient civilizations in various forms. They survived in hot climes such as the American South, and have enjoyed some- thing of a recent revival in artisanal-food circles. The "recipe" for shrubs is more like a set of instructions. As Toby Cecchini wrote for the Times, "find a good-quality apple-cider or wine vinegar, soak any fresh fruit in it for a week, then add sugar, boil for an hour, strain and bottle it up." The ratio of sugar to vinegar should be about 1:1. Alterna- tively, you can "cold-process" your shrub, which retains a fresher fruit flavor, by chill- ing equal parts fresh fruit and sugar for a day or so, and adding the resulting syrup to the vinegar. The flavor combinations here are only limited by what fresh produce is available. A traditionally prepared blueberry, raspberry or cherry shrub will have a rich, heady, syr- upy flavor. A cold-processed peach, melon or citrus shrub will be light, piquant and fragrant. Secondary flavors such as mint, lemongrass or lavender will add complexity and sophistication. Imagine a lemon-mint shrub mixed with coconut water. Or a raspberry shrub with ginger beer. Don't let vinegar's sour image deter you from mixing up some sweet (and refresh- ing) drinks this summer. Instead, enjoy what Toby Cecchini called "the first truly adult nonalcoholic drink I'd ever had." May 10, 2012 O-Town Scene 13

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