Why We’re Putting Balsamic in Our Booze

Bartender Jillian Vose shares a cocktail recipe made with chili-infused balsamic vinegar.

Emilio Sour
Emilio Sour | Photo by Shannon Sturgis
Emilio Sour | Photo by Shannon Sturgis

Sometimes it can be hard to stay on top of all the latest trends on TikTok. But one we certainly noticed was everyone mixing balsamic vinegar and sparkling water to make “healthy Coke.”

While that combo leaves something to be desired, adding high acidity ingredients to drinks is certainly nothing new. Bartenders have been using shrubs and drinking vinegars to add complexity to cocktails for ages. But could an ingredient like balsamic vinegar actually be the star of the show?

That was exactly the challenge posed when Modena, Italy-based vinegar company Caradini approached award-winning bartender Jillian Vose, former bar manager at the legendary New York City pub Dead Rabbit who is poised to open a new bar, Hazel and Apple, alongside business partner Sean Muldoon in Charleston by spring 2023.

“It was really cool to make something that was built around the vinegars, as opposed to the vinegars being an accent,” Vose says. “You have to think about it not being too harsh on the stomach, something that’s palatable for a full cocktail. Though it’s not a new trend, perse, it’s getting more popular as people gain access to high-quality vinegars.”

She came up with the Emilio Sour, a combination of Argentinian gin, grapefruit sherbet, celery seed syrup, chocolate bitters, lemon juice, and chili-infused balsamic vinegar. While at first blush, it might look like a lot of disparate ingredients that could potentially clash, Vose explains that each flavor profile acts as a complement.

“Maybe at first it could come across as, like, a salad cocktail or something, but I was using the vinegar way I would use wine in a cocktail,” she says. “There is tea and mint in the gin, which plays well with the celery. Because of the vinegar, you need to stretch the drink out, so I added citrus for another dimension and wanted to do something with spice on the back end.”

She adds: “It seems odd on paper, but once it whets your whistle, you’re enticed to have another sip.”

When making this drink at home, Vose advises to try the vinegar on its own first to really get a feel for its flavor profile, and think of balancing that out with something strong, sweet, and bitter. “You can use the vinegar as your base by adding different-flavored dry sodas for a highball or balancing flavors with a simple syrup,” she says. “But don’t treat the vinegar like a spirit when measuring. A little goes a long way.”

While this isn’t a cocktail you’ll necessarily see on the menu at Hazel and Apple, Vose says she’s excited to continue experimenting with unique recipes, low-ABV drinks, and fresh ingredients.

“If you incentivize bartenders to use ingredients like this, they’re going to push the boundaries and it will become a more natural thing for them to reach for,” she says. “But high-quality ingredients are especially important—you’re not gonna do this with Heinz red wine vinegar. Don’t be afraid to try vinegars from different places, because each will have a unique terroir.”

Emilio Sour Recipe

• 1½ ounces Apostoles Gin
• ½ ounce Cascabel Chili-infused with Carandini “Emilio” (Balsamic Vinegar of Modena PGI)
• ¾ ounce fresh lemon juice
• ½ ounce celery seed syrup
• ½ ounce grapefruit sherbet
• 1 dash chocolate bitters (Bitter Truth Mole)

1. In shaker tins, add all ingredients into the smaller tin.
2. Fill with cubed ice, and shake vigorously for 20 seconds.
3. Fine strain the liquid from the ice using a mesh strainer and hawthorne strainer into a coupette glass. No garnish.

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Jess Mayhugh is the editorial director of Food & Drink for Thrillist.