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For the love of a cold one: How drinking vinegar became a thing

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Our brand manager, Karina, shares her journey with drinking vinegar. From her first taste at the Pok Pok restaurant in New York City, she tells us how she uses it now.

I first met drinking vinegar in Brooklyn in 2013 at Pok Pok NY, at one of Andy Ricker’s famous Thai restaurants. I felt I had to go see what all the fuss was about - good American thai is a rare gem.

My main take-away (besides the signature pandan-steeped water in my Kleen Kanteen) was the simplicity and liveliness of the drinking vinegar sodas on the menu. Serving spicy, zesty bar food inspired by the northern regions of Thailand, Pok Pok’s refreshing Som sodas offset the burn of the cuisine.

Served in a tall frosty glass full of soda water, the Som concentrated syrup sits colourful and festive at the bottom and the stirring spoon allows the drinker to start the party with a swizzle. Sharp, sweet and refreshing, it was the most enjoyable beverage without booze I’d enjoyed at a restaurant for a while. I was convinced.

And so was Andy. So well received were Pok Pok Som drinking vinegar sodas that in 2011, Ricker began bottling them for retail.

To be fair, the love affair is not an original one; drinking vinegars (also known as shrubs) have a long history and wide audience.

Initially a preserving method for an abundance of near-wasted fruit, the process involves macerating fruit in cane sugar and vinegar and adding water to make a syrup. The age-old practice of drinking vinegar for vitality, digestion, and hydration, is found in cultures beyond Southeast Asia (from where Som is inspired).

Thought to come via the West Indies to the American hay fields as a kind of Gatorade, the Japanese also have a variation of the tonic, as do the Amish. Hippocrates himself, fancied as the father of modern medicine, would prescribe apple cider vinegar with honey to remedy a variety of ills. But as divine as it tastes, drinking vinegars aren’t to be confused with medicine. Least of all it offers a natural and significantly reduced sugar drink, and best of all a ‘digestion aid’.

Back in Australia, it was with anticipation that I tasted the new flavours; Thai Basil, Chinese Celery and Turmeric. These are now my top picks.

Chinese Celery is vegetal and fresh and reminiscent of Cel-Ray, a drink typically found in a New York Jewish deli. It is known to be referred to as the ‘Champagne of the Jews’. I muddle this with cucumber gin and soda, and drink while holding a slab of pastrami in the other hand. A hint of this Som is also beautiful in a herbaceous fennel salad.

Thai Basil has a curious pink glow, which sadly disappears in the dilution process, as much as the flavour is retained. I like Thai Basil Som in a marinade for fish, chili and lime salad, which is alike to a drink best enjoyed on a hot Friday afternoon. Using Som for an Asian dressing is as perfect as creating a drink, as often sugar and vinegar is called for.

Turmeric has an almost unreal orange glow and tastes like the beginnings of a curry paste. Adding a pop of colour to any drink, and equally earthy and bright, Turmeric Som will be a fun toy in the hands of many home/pro bar tenders and chefs. Turmeric is currently going through another 15 minutes of fame wave in the health food sphere, in case that’s your tipping point.

As versatile as they are unique, experimenting with Pok Pok Som is like going for a world tour from the bar stool or kitchen, whichever your preference.

Images: Kaia Balcos

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