Search & Distill: Getting Serious About Sour

You’ll need vinegar for this.

Just like lemonade, popular summer drinks rely on a combination of sweet and tart, the margarita being the best envoy of the style. But I want to talk about taking tart—more aptly, sour—to the next level. Picture drinks that make your lips pucker up, the back of your mouth tingle, and your eyes involuntarily squint.I started obsessing over sour drinks a few months ago, when Jonathan Kauffman wrote about Joule (1913 N. 45th St.). I cannot resist ordering their kumquat sour, a non-alcoholic beverage at once brusque and luscious. The naturally sour and aromatic notes of kumquat mixed with sugar and vinegar make every taste bud stand at attention, ready for the bold, diverse flavors of the restaurant's Korean-inspired cuisine.Since hunting for vinegar drinks or making syrups from things like tamarind or sour-plum paste might not fit into everyone's schedule, I recommend you start simply with an apple-cider vinegar to see if this type of drink is for you. (If not, you've got something with which to make salad dressing.) Vinegar tonics have a long tradition in folk medicine, used as a detoxifier, digestion aid, and immune-system booster. None of these claims is scientifically proven, but I can attest to vinegar as an appetite stimulant, and have been drinking it for years with cranberry concentrate during cleanses. I started adding vinegar, a little honey, salt, and lime to my water after workouts when a yoga teacher recommended the last two ingredients to replace electrolytes, as opposed to sport drinks. The concoction compels me to rehydrate, and now I can't live without it.Unfiltered vinegar contains the "mother of vinegar"—dead yeast cells and flotsam that contribute a bit of depth to the flavor, same as in unfiltered beer or wine. Trader Joe's has a more-than-decent organic apple-cider vinegar, but I prefer Bragg's organic and unfiltered brand, which really brings the cider moniker home.The perception of sour will vary for everyone, so start by trying the vinegar straight. The more times you cough, the more sugar you'll want to add. For a single serving, start with two tablespoons of apple-cider vinegar and one tablespoon of simple syrup. Taste it first; then add sparkling or still water with lemonade, fresh apple juice, or whatever sounds good. Don't add too much of anything sweet, though, or you'll lose the effect. Personally, I up the sour by adding a splash of cranberry before topping it off with a cold herbal tea. You could make a crazy gin and juice or whiskey sour with vinegar, but be careful, as the flavor hides most of the alcohol's taste.I love that Americans are getting confident with more unusual flavors, especially the sour and the bitter, and making them part of their eating habits. You don't always have to go out of your way; taking a stab at the exotic takes nothing more than a few ingredients already available in your refrigerator or grocery store.msavarino@seattleweekly.com

 
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