ntil recently, I scoffed at two food trends: the balsamic-vinegar-in-desserts trend and the craft-cocktail trend. Considering that my finest vinegar cost me about four bucks, and came from Trader Joe’s, it just never seemed fitting for anything besides dressings and marinades. As for cocktails, I pretty much gave up hard liquor after consuming far too much sloe gin in my youth. As an adult, I generally prefer wine.
Recently I’ve come to appreciate, dare I say obsess about, both of those trends. I stopped in Vom Fass last week for a preview of an event featuring their incredible selection of cask-stored vinegars, oils and spirits. Sip after sip and taste after taste of the liqueurs and foods that featured their products left me a fan—albeit a bit tipsy. One of my favorite items sampled was Sassy Cow vanilla ice cream topped with strawberries and, you guessed it, balsamic vinegar. Not just any balsamic, but a fine Aceto Balsamico di Modena – Maletti. The acidic and raisin-y vinegar melded perfectly with the sweet and creamy ice cream and tart berries. I went home and immediately ate a bowl of yogurt and berries, drizzled with honey and my newly acquired balsamic vinegar. Stop me now!
As for cocktails, the tides have changed there, too. Usually when my husband gets home from work, we take a few minutes to chat while he enjoys a glass of beer and I sip (or gulp, depending on the day) a glass of wine. On one of those furnace-hot days last week, however, I handed my husband a glass filled with ice and asked him to make a mixed drink for me. I wanted something lemony and refreshing. Looking through our embarrassingly meager liquor shelf he grabbed some Death’s Door vodka, which until then I had only used in pie crust. He poured a healthy amount in the glass and topped it off with some lemonade concentrate I had made. In a moment of creative inspiration, I grabbed a handful of mint from the garden, briefly crushed it with my hands and dropped that in the glass, too. My hubby filled the glass the rest of the way with lime seltzer water. Sip, slurp. Dang, we’re good! In fact, it was so good that my husband, who typically sticks to beer, made one for himself.
Craft liquor production has surged recently and we are lucky to have a few great distilleries right here in Madison that make small-batch spirits. Yahara Bay Distillery produces my favorite apple brandy along side rums, vodka and cocoa liqueur. You can enjoy a taste on Thursdays at their distillery, or sample their products at Vom Fass. Death’s Door Spirits offers premium gin, vodka and whisky made with products harvested on Washington Island in northern Wisconsin. And Old Sugar Distillery on East Main Street makes a fabulous honey liqueur and an ouzo, among other products. Stop by their distillery Thursday through Saturday evenings for a tour and a cocktail.
Craft cocktails, which feature artisanal spirits mixed with locally sourced and seasonal ingredients, and homemade syrups and bitters, are great way to play with locally distilled liquors. Craft cocktail bars are cropping up around Madison as fast as the corn! But why not play bartender and make your own? Then you can enjoy one of the most important parts of creating a drink—naming it. My husband named our concoction the Slip ‘n Slide, though it was a tight race against my suggestion: Rasta Vodka (the same drink with a dash of raspberry syrup). Now, to craft a cocktail that features both vinegar and liquor. I think I’ll leave that to the professionals.
Slip ‘n Slide and Rasta Vodka
1 shot vodka
5 mint leaves, hand muddled
2 tbsp lemonade syrup (see recipe below)
1/2 cup lime seltzer
For Rasta Vodka, add 1–2 tbsp raspberry syrup; see recipe below
1 cup fresh squeezed lemon juice
1 cup water
3/4 cup sugar
Heat until sugar dissolves. Store in glass container in fridge.
1 cup fresh raspberries
1/4 cup water
2 tbsp sugar
Heat raspberries with sugar and water briefly. Smash them to release juices and strain mixture through fine sieve to remove seeds. Store in glass container in fridge.
Photo by Otehlia Cassidy.