CVIndependent

Tue11132018

Last updateTue, 18 Sep 2018 1pm

A funny thing about the Coachella Valley: Opinions on the “slowest month” in the bar industry vary greatly depending on whom you ask. After what was a surprisingly OK summer, it seems that as of this mid-September writing, we are smack-dab in my nominee for the slowest bar month.

Now, it would be selfish of me to concoct some reason to get you into the bars and restaurants and away from whatever adventures are currently occupying your day—and selfish is not my style. So … if you are taking advantage of the somewhat cooler days to get outside and be active, or maybe just taking a break from the bars, let me throw a couple of concoctions your way to make those parched hikes, thirsty loops around the golf course and pool days a little more pleasant.

I am talking about … and don’t freak out now … vinegar-based beverages!

For those of you who are still reading and haven’t skipped to the beer or wine column, rest assured: These concoctions can certainly be improved with the alcohol of your choice. I will even suggest some pairings.

I have held off writing about shrubb until now for a few reasons, not the least of which is the shrubb fad in cocktails is long past. The other reason is that people just don’t seem to like them. Perhaps the modern American palate rejects vinegar as a flavor in beverages, or maybe it was the heavy-handed way in which bar folk tended to incorporate them into drinks (myself included).

The first time I tried one, maybe 10 years ago, an eager bartender at my favorite spot let me try her lovingly homemade rosemary and thyme version. I was equally intrigued and displeased as I worked the drink down my gullet. A few years later, I experimented with some myself, and sample bottles started piling up inside the reach-in fridges at the bar. Then, poof, it was over. RIP, shrubb fad—and good riddance.

But what exactly is a shrubb, and why should you care?

A shrubb, I have read in several places, is a corruption of the Persian word “sharâb” (or “wine”), and shares the same etymology as “syrup.” A shrubb is, in most cases, a type of syrup … that has taken a left turn into vinegar country. Traditionally, it was a method of preserving fruit in the days before refrigeration. Techniques vary, but if you have some fruit that’s about to spoil, grab a pound, and let’s get colonial:

  • 1 pound or so of the fruit of your choice (but avoid citrus because of the acidity)
  • 3/4 cup to a cup of sugar
  • 3/4 cup to a cup of vinegar (red wine, white wine or apple cider work well; I have high hopes for rice vinegar, too)

Dice the fruit; add the sugar; cover, refrigerate and leave overnight or longer to draw out the liquid. Remove the fruit and strain. Add the vinegar … and you’re done. Boil for a few seconds to make it last longer if you want, but it’s good to go.

You can use the spent fruit; it won’t taste amazing, but it will work on an English muffin or ice cream or something. Usually I use fruit that’s a bit mealy or past its prime, like the red plums in my latest batch … so I don’t bother with the spent fruit. Herbs can be added; too; I usually just toss them in with the fruit and sugar in the first step. Try unconventional things like jalepeños or cucumbers; there are lots of fun options here!

What do you do with this stuff? You force it on friends and family! I like to use about an ounce with soda water and ice, topped with mint, cilantro and even basil. I find it delicious and refreshing as a teetotaler tipple … think kombucha. You could also use it in a cocktail. Try making something margarita- or daiquiri-like and putting a little in there. It adds a unique flavor.

Pineapple shrubb is the king for cocktails, in my opinion; cut back on the vinegar for cocktail use, maybe to half, as there usually will be lime or lemon juice as well in the drink. Perhaps make a sauce with it. Experiment!

Now onto the main event: Switchel!

Switchel, yankee punch or swizzle was a colonial “sports drink” popular in New England and the Caribbean. I am assuming from the name that it was probably mixed with a thin branch, or switch, as the modern cocktails in the swizzle family are. The earliest recipe I have seen, I found on the excellent “Jas. Townsend and Sons” colonial cooking YouTube channel (yes, this is what I do with my spare time), and it comes from The Skilled Housewife, an 18th century cookbook.

  • 1/2 gallon of water
  • 1/2 cup unsulfured molasses
  • 1/4 cup of vinegar (apple cider)
  • 1 tablespoon of powdered ginger

Mix, serve chilled.

You didn’t think I was going to just leave it alone, now, did you? I did two versions—one with Vermont maple syrup, and the other with California wildflower honey instead of the molasses. I used a thumb of smashed fresh ginger in both, since I am not going for historical accuracy here. I also reduced the recipe by half. To the maple syrup version, I added:

  • One small Gala apple, diced
  • One stick of cinnamon
  • A pinch of green caraway seeds
  • Several star anise pods

Leave it overnight in the refrigerator, and transfer to a thermos after straining; place another cinnamon stick into the thermos. Go on a hike, preferably somewhere at cooler elevations. When the climb, altitude and exhaustion start to hit, take a good swig in the shade. I did just that in Idyllwild, and my hiking companion and I felt totally rejuvenated. I also think it would be amazing with apple brandy or a nice Barbados rum, even bourbon. Garnish it with some apples or lemons, thinly sliced, and serve it with a block of ice on a hot day. Yankee punch indeed.

What about the honey version? It was so tasty that it may end up on a cocktail menu or in a bottle at some point, so I have to keep some secrets!

Yeah, maybe I am a little selfish after all, but it’s slow this time of year …

Kevin Carlow is a bartender at Truss and Twine, and can be reached via email at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

Published in Cocktails

After we created the Facebook event page for the Non-Alcoholic Cocktail Championship, a well-meaning friend commented: "I'm confused. Non-Alcoholic? Why bother?"

Here's why: There are many, many people who do not drink alcohol—for a variety of reasons. Yet all of those people still go into bars and restaurants with friends who do imbibe—and their drink choices are often severely limited, to soda, juice, coffee, tea and perhaps a really bad nonalcoholic beer. 

It does not have to be this way: Non-drinkers deserve tasty cocktails, too—and it's indeed possible to create cocktail-style drinks without alcohol.

This point was illustrated masterfully on Saturday, Nov. 19, at Gelson's in Rancho Mirage, during the Non-Alcoholic Cocktail Championship, a production of the Independent's Palm Springs Craft Cocktail Week. While a couple of contestants dropped out at the last minute due to work commitments, the two contestants—Kevin Carlow of Seymour's/Mr Lyons (and, it should be noted, an Independent contributor) and Joey Tapia of New York Company—proved with their delicious cocktails that alcohol is not needed for a drink to be downright tasty.

The judges—the Independent's Garrett Dangerfield; Kristin Stahr of Gelson's; Alexis Ortega of the LGBT Community Center of the Desert; and Doug VanSant of reigning Best Local Band (according to readers voting in the Best of Coachella Valley) The Flusters—had split opinions on which drink was best. However, Tapia—who won the Audience Choice Award two nights before at the Palm Springs Craft Cocktail Championship—and his watermelon-based drink edged out Carlow and his deliciously sweet, vinegary cocktail.

Below are photos from the event.

Published in Snapshot

What: Black Pepper Pok Pok Som Drinking Vinegar

Where: Dead or Alive, 150 E. Palm Canyon Drive, Palm Springs

How much: $4

Contact: 760-864-7193; www.deadoralivebar.com

Why: It’s an equally attractive nonalcoholic beverage.

Back when I was in college, the university had a policy: Any group that threw a party on campus that included alcohol also had to offer EANABs—equally attractive non-alcoholic beverages—for attendees who were eschewing booze, for whatever reason.

However, this policy was a joke: The EANABs at parties were almost always terrible—a couple cans of Diet Coke, perhaps, or maybe a half-flat two-liter bottle of Sprite off in the corner somewhere. These lame beverages were certainly not equally attractive to anything, in any way.

EANABs have been on my mind as of late, because the hubby recently quit drinking. (He was never much of a drinker in the first place. He just doesn’t care for it.) Therefore, in recent months, we’ve learned that most bars and restaurants are horribly uncreative when it comes to non-alcoholic beverages.

That’s why the Pok Pok Som Drinking Vinegar offered at Dead or Alive, the fantastic new wine and beer bar across the street from Mr. Lyons on Palm Canyon Drive, is so refreshing—in several different ways.

It’s refreshing because it’s a perfect warm-weather beverage. I know many of you are reading this and thinking, “WTF is drinking vinegar?!” The answer: It’s a tart, sweet, nuanced beverage that in no way tastes like the stuff one would use to make a salad dressing. Dead or Alive offers several different flavors in rotation, including Meyer lemon, grapefruit and passion fruit. However, my favorite is the black pepper: You don’t really taste all that much pepper, but you feel a pleasing, subtle burn on the back of your tongue while drinking the beverage.

It’s also refreshing because it’s truly an EANAB. Hooray to the folks at Dead or Alive (full disclosure—co-owner Christine Soto is a contributor to the Independent) for offering non-drinkers an equally attractive beverage. Here’s hoping other bars and restaurants follow suit.

Published in The Indy Endorsement