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Vinegar Unveiled

You've had it in salads, soups and sauces, now try sipping the stuff in one of these vinegar-tinged libations.
Friday Jun 26, 2009.     By Stacy Warden
Centerstage Chicago Nightlife City Guide Arts

Cielo Rojo at Las <A HREF=/restaurants/palm.html>Palm</a>as
photo: courtesy of Las Palmas

Maybe your mouth is already puckering at the thought of sipping a vinegar cocktail, but adding the tangy stuff to alcohol is nothing new. Back in the 1800s, apple cider vinegars were once boiled into syrups to create fruity cocktails. Sometimes they were even added straight to spirits for their purported medicinal qualities. These local vinegar concoctions might not cure what ails you, but they'll certainly make you feel good.

Pennyroyal at Crimson Lounge
You've got to be in the know to score this acidic aperitif, as you won't find a trace of vinegar anywhere on Crimson's cocktail menu. The Pennyroyal is the creation of mixologist Todd Appel, who featured the drink at the Grand Marnier Navan summit this past March. Appel's combination of Bakers bourbon, Grand Marnier, moscato vinegar syrup, bitters and caramelized cocktail onion garnish make this drink one worth savoring. The overall effect is a fine balance between sweet and sour, which tends to induce salt cravings. Appel recommends trying the drink with Crimson's cheese plate, roasted nuts or a smoked salmon napoleon. "I'm not big on pairing cocktails with food, as I think it is putting a square peg into a round hole," he says. "But this is a bit of an exception."

Bourbon and Balsamic Vinegar at mk
mk mixologist John Kinder loves to play poker, but he doesn't love the boring drink mixers that are often served on game nights. After tiring of a friend's cocktails at one of their regular poker gatherings, Kinder decided to start incorporating vinegar into his mixes. He now has a whole slew of recipes to show for it, including a sweet and sour concoction with a bourbon base, water, honey and a tinge of balsamic vinegar. He's also paired rice wine, ver jus and apple cider vinegars with different spirits like shochu, cognac and calvados. Kinder's passion for vinegar's versatility shows even when he isn't experimenting with the hard stuff. "I also use vinegar in non-alcoholic pairings for those women who are pregnant that come into the restaurant," he says.

Seasonal Shrub at Graham Elliot
Here is another one of those tight-lipped libations, but bartender Lynn House will gladly mix one up for you if you ask nicely. This traditional concoction dates back to colonial times, when vinegar was often used to preserve fruit. The refreshing syrups were then added to an assortment of spirits. Currently House is serving a blackberry and basil shrub with North Shore gin, but that could all change with her next visit to the farmer's market. "I love to mix seasonally and use as many local products as possible," says House. The shrub spirits will change to complement whatever fruity vinegar syrup she concocts. Raspberry, cherry, apricot and peach are a few flavors to look forward to throughout the season.

Cielo Rojo at Las Palmas
Kyle McHugh, president of The Boozehound, came up with this fruity concoction during one of his mixology lab events. The drink tested so well that Las Palmas in Wicker Park decided to put it on their Mexican-fueled menu. You wouldn't think that a drink with so many ingredients (Leblon Cachaca, limoncello, chambord, pineapple and lemon juice, blackberries and basil leaves) needs the extra acidic kick, but after a few drops of balsamic vinegar, this already refreshing drink takes on new meaning. As McHugh says, "It's not much vinegar, but it makes a world of difference in the drink."


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