Friday SWEbinar: Taste the Difference – New World vs Old World

Blind tastingThis Friday, February 27 – we are pleased to offer another one of our Noon (central time) SWEbinars!

This week we offer a session called Taste the Difference: New World vs Old World,” presented by Jörn Kleinhans, CSW (Link will go “live” a few hours before the scheduled date/time.) In this session, we’ll discuss a systematic overview of philosophical differences between the wines of Europe and the most important wine regions in the New World.  We’ll learn about the different roles of winemaker and nature, the varying perspectives on food pairing, and the differences in resulting flavor styles. This discussion will be directly relevant for CSW students and CWE students, as well as wine lovers of all levels who appreciate a systematic approach to categorizing the most important wine regions.

To join the session – just click on the link: Friday, February 27th – 12 Noon Central Time:  Taste the Difference – New World vs Old World (Link will go “live” a few hours before the scheduled event.)

Sommelier Jörn Kleinhans is a wine educator and blind-tasting instructor in Orange County, California. His perspectives on wine have been published by the Wall Street Journal, Business Insider, MarketWatch and the Robb Report. He can be reached at Joey@WineElite.org. Joey welcomes any specific requests our members would like to have addressed during this webinar. 

Blind tasting 2SWE’s SWEbinar series is unique in that it is offered free-of-charge, and open to the public! We also try to accomodate all schedules by offering sessions on weekdays and weekends, as well as daytime and evening hours. If you have a topic you would like to see addressed, or a time-of-day that would work for you, please let our Director of Education, Jane A. Nickles know via email at jnickles@societyofwineeducators.org

Login Instructions: At the appointed time, just click on the link. There is no need to register in advance. Links will be attached to the date and time announcement of each session in the list below and will go “live” a few hours before the scheduled date.

  • When the SWE Adobe Connect homepage appears, click on “enter as a guest,” type in your name, and click “enter room.” Remember that each session is limited to 100 attendees, and that several of our past sessions have reached capacity. We are hoping to avoid this issue in the future by offering more SWEbinars, but its still a good idea to log on early!
  • If you have never attended an Adobe Connect event before, it is also a good idea to test your connection ahead of time (just click on the link).
  • If you are having any trouble with your Adobe Connect connection, please see our SWEbinar Trouble-shooting page.

If you have any questions about our SWEbinars, please contact Jane Nickles: jnickles@societyofwineeducators.org

Click here for the 2015 SWEbinar Calendar

Are you interested in being a guest blogger or a guest SWEbinar presenter for SWE?  Click here for more information!

 

Welcome to the World, Fountaingrove District AVA!

Figure 16-13 Sonoma County

One more AVA for Sonoma County!

Last Wednesday – on February 18, 2015 -  the TTB issued a final ruling authorizing the Fountaingrove District Viticultural Area in Sonoma County. The new AVA covers 38,000 acres, of which 500 acres are currently planted to vines.

The AVA is located northeast of the city of Santa Rosa. The name “Fountaingrove” was proven to have a historical connection to the region – although not because it is currently the name of a housing district in the area. It turns out that, in the late 1800s, northern California was something of a haven for religious and utopian experimentation. As such, a gentleman named Thomas Lake Harris, who called himself the leader of the “Brotherhood of the New Life,” established a utopian community in Sonoma County, and named it Fountaingrove. The community thrived for a while, largely due to the success of the Fountain Grove Winery, but was exposed as “scandalous” in 1891, when Alzire Chevallier, a journalist for the San Francisco Chronicle, secretly joined the group and then wrote a scathing article about the group’s “practices.”

As for the new version of the Fountaingrove District – that of Sonoma County’s newest AVA – it stretches somewhat from the Russian River Valley in the west, through Chalk Hill and to the border between Napa and Sonoma. As soon as an official map is released, we’ll update our CSW maps as well.

Welcome to the world, Fountaingrove District AVA!

You can read the pertinent details on the TTB website.

Are you interested in being a guest blogger or a guest SWEbinar presenter for SWE?  Click here for more information!

 

 

The Toe, the Shin, and the Heel – all at Vino 2015!

today we have a guest blog from Sharron McCarthy who was lucky enough to attend Vino 2015 last week! Read on for a first-hand account!

sharronLast week the Italian Trade Commission welcomed wine writers, retailers, restaurateurs, distributors and winemakers from all over the world to Vino 2015 – Italian Wine Week. Touted as the “grandest Italian Wine Event Held Outside of Italy,” the event hosted over 200 producers and importers from some of Italy’s most important viticultural regions, with a focus on Southern Italian wines.  Over 60 Italian wine producers were part of the Vino Direct program, debuting a vast selection of wines available for the first time in the United States.

Vino 2015 was filled with seminars, tastings, and events highlighting the extraordinary wines of Italy -including the lesser appreciated (but magnificent) wines of Calabria, Campania, Puglia and Sicilia. These regions form the lower portion of the country, and are often described as the toe, shin, and heel of the “Italian boot.”

We learned that 90% of the land of Calabria – the toe of the Italian boot – is mountainous with steep hills. This rugged terrain does not prevent the mysterious Gaglioppo grape (possibly indigenous or possibly of Greek origin) from producing delightful reds like Cirò as well as a rare mountain red wine known as Savuto DOC.  Dry white wines from Calabria are generally based on the Greco grape variety – the gift of the Greeks – as is the rare, sweet appassimento wine produced from it known as Greco di Bianco.

Campania – the shin of the boot – is also known as “Campania Felix” or “The Happy Countryside.” Campania offers us wines produced from her splendid volcanic soils.  Founded as a Greek colony in the 8th century BC, the Greeks brought vines to Campania that live on today as the white grape varieties known as Falanghina and Greco. Campania is also known for another capativating white variety known as Coda di Volpe – the “Tail of the Fox.” The grape is said to be so named as the clusters of grapes  form a shape that reminds one of the tail of the fox! A wine sometimes referred to as the  “Barolo of the South” is produced here as well – but you might know it better as the great Taurasi, born of the  Aglianico grape variety (the Italianized name for Hellenico).

ItalyPuglia – the heel of the boot – is home to a sun-drenched coast and two seas, the Adriatic and the Ioanian!  Puglia’s wines benefit from the brilliant sun and sweeping sea breezes.  Most of the leading red wines of Publia include a at least a portion of Primitivo – so named as it matures earlier than the other leading red grapes of the region such as Uva di Troia and NegroAmaro.  Intriguing but obscure white grapes like Impigno, Verdeca and Asprino are found in this beguiling region.

Sicilian wines have long been popular throughout the world. This triangle-shaped island, the largest in the Mediterranean, boasts more than 32 different grape varieties.  The Arab conquest of this seductive island left it with a sweet tooth and magnificent, sweet wines to satisfy it. Some of the well-known sweet wines of Sicily include Marsala, Malvasia delle Lipari and luscious versions of Moscato.  Catarrato, Inzolia, and Grecanico are prominent whites while reds such as Nero d’Avola, Nerello Mascalese and Frappato have quite a following.  In the 1990′s grapes like Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah and Chardonnay made their way to this ancient land and have inspired new traditions for modern tastes.

For more information on the wines featured at this event as well as producers seeking importers, please visit the website of Vino 2015 here. 

Our guest blogger, Sharron McCarthy, CSW, is the Vice President of Wine Education for Banfi Vintners, as well as being a past president and current Director Emeritus of the Society of Wine Educators.

Saturday SWEbinar: The Insider’s Guide to the CSS Exam

Fig 11-2 CosmopolitanIn honor of the recent publication of our 2015 Certified Specialist of Spirits Study Guide, we will be offering – for the first time – an “Insider’s Guide to the CSS Exam.” This too will become a monthly installment. If you have questions about the CSS Exam, have just started the to study, or are still a cocktail-enthusiast who is “thinking about” getting certified, you’ll find the answers to all your questions at the “Insider’s Guide”! The Insider’s Guide to the CSS Exam will run on Saturday, February 21st at 10:00 am central time.

SWE’s SWEbinar series is unique in that it is offered free-of-charge, and open to the public! We also try to accomodate all schedules by offering sessions on weekdays and weekends, as well as daytime and evening hours. If you have a topic you would like to see addressed, or a time-of-day that would work for you, please let our Director of Education, Jane A. Nickles know via email at jnickles@societyofwineeducators.org

Login Instructions: At the appointed time, just click on the link. There is no need to register in advance. Links will be attached to the date and time announcement of each session in the list below and will go “live” a few hours before the scheduled date.

CSS Study GuideWhen the SWE Adobe Connect homepage appears, click on “enter as a guest,” type in your name, and click “enter room.” Remember that each session is limited to 100 attendees, and that several of our past sessions have reached capacity. We are hoping to avoid this issue in the future by offering more SWEbinars, but its still a good idea to log on early!

  • If you have never attended an Adobe Connect event before, it is also a good idea to test your connection ahead of time (just click on the link).
  • If you are having any trouble with your Adobe Connect connection, please see our SWEbinar Trouble-shooting page.

Link: Saturday, February 21st – 10:00 am central time – The Insider’s Guide to the CSS Exam - This is one for the Spirits Crowd! presented by Jane A. Nickles, CSS, CWE  (Link will go “live” a few hours before the scheduled date/time.) We’ve just published a new CSS Study Guide, and a new workbook is on the way. In other words, it’s a whole new world for the CSS! Join our Director of Education, Jane A. Nickles, and learn what to expect from the new CSS!

If you have any questions, please contact Jane Nickles: jnickles@societyofwineeducators.org

Click here for the 2015 SWEbinar Calendar

Are you interested in being a guest blogger or a guest SWEbinar presenter for SWE?  Click here for more information!

 

Following the Rocks: The Making of an AVA

Rocks NewIt seems that new AVAs are popping up all over – from the 11 new AVAs within Paso Robles late last year, to wines being produced using the latest when did that happen AVA.  It led me to wonder: Just what is the process to create a new AVA?

To start my research, I did a quick read of the “Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau (TTB) American Viticultural Area (AVA) Manual for Petitioners.” Trust me on this – its heavy on the legalese so I read it – so you don’t have to!

Here are the basics:

The Law: The Federal Alcohol Administration Act (FAA Act) authorizes the Secretary of the Treasury to prescribe regulations for the labeling of wine, distilled spirits, and malt beverages.  The FAA Act provides that any such regulations should, among other things, prohibit consumer deception and the use of misleading statements on labels and provide the consumer with adequate information as to the identity and quality of the label product.  This includes the regulations pertaining to the establishment of American Viticultural Areas (AVA) and the use of AVA names on wine labels.

The Definition: As defined by the TTB, an AVA is a distinct grape-growing region having distinguishing features, a name, and a delineated boundary established by the TTB.  The use of an AVA name on a label allows vintners and consumers to attribute a given quality, reputation, or other characteristic of a wine made from grapes grown in a certain area to its geographical origin.

The Steps: Anyone can petition for a new AVA, but there are specific steps and criteria involved.

  • Name Evidence – the proposed name must directly relate to the proposed AVA location, but avoid conflict from similar geographical locations or existing brand names.
  • Boundary Evidence – explain why the boundary of the proposed AVA is drawn the way it is.
  • Distinguishing Features – explain the distinguishing features of the proposed AVA that supports the name and boundary of the AVA.
  • If the proposed AVA is located within an existing AVA, the proposed AVA must identify attributes that are consistent with the existing AVA, but also explain how the proposed AVA is distinct from the existing AVA to warrant recognition as a separate AVA.

The Petition: Once the TTB receives the petition they determine if it meets all the above requirements as well as sufficient evidence to authorize a new AVA. The petition is then published and the public is invited to comment on the proposed AVA.  This period of comment usually lasts about 60 days.  Once closed the TTB takes these comments into consideration prior to the final ruling.

Oregon updated Feb 2015The AVA petitioning and rulemaking process frequently takes multiple years to complete.

So now that we have covered the basics, I wanted to take a closer look at a proposed AVA , The Rocks District of Milton-Freewater and follow its process.

Proposed AVA “The Rocks District of Milton-Freewater”

First a review of the official “Petition to establish The Rocks District of Milton-Freewater.”

The Proposal: The proposed establishment of The Rocks District of Milton-Freewater AVA was first posted on February 26, 2014.  This new proposed AVA encompasses 3770 acres that feature very rocky soils.  The area currently contains approximately 250 acres of vineyards and three wineries.

The Evidence: The Name evidence is covered with “The Rocks District of Milton-Freewater” that locally refers to the cobblestone rich vineyard soils of the Walla Walla River alluvial fan known as “The Rocks.” I found it interesting that not only were publications submitted as evidence, but also numerous internet sources.

The Boundary evidence was devised to enclose the central part of the Walla Walla River alluvial fan that features this unique basalt cobblestone soil.  Within the proposed AVA boundary, the cobblestones appear readily at the surface whereas areas outside the proposed AVA boundary the soil is typically silt loam without cobblestones.

The Distinguishing feature must be the rockiness of the soils.  It is stated that 97% of the ground within the AVA boundary are fist-sized, river-smoothed basalt cobblestones.  These stones stretch down several hundred feet and are so heavy and densely packed that crowbars are needed to plant vines.  Back in 2009 when I was in Walla Walla there was great excitement by the winemakers about the quality of fruit they were getting from “The Rocks”.  The official petition states that the area has been famous for the fruitfulness of it’s stony soils for over 100 years.  Syrah is the star of this new AVA with bold, earthy aromas locally referred to as “The Rocks funk.”  The wines are savory and meaty with additional notes of olive, floral, and mineral.

Since this proposed AVA resides within Walla Walla Valley AVA, the author of the petition had a delicate balance of showing the uniqueness of this proposed AVA while still maintaining its rightful place within the existing AVA.

RocksThe Twist: One aspect of this proposed AVA that stood out; is that it is solely located in Oregon, while Walla Walla Valley AVA is located primarily in Washington with some cross over into Oregon.  This aspect also brought about the most public comments during the AVA petition process.  Since this sub-AVA does not cross the Washington state border only wineries with an Oregon production facility will be able to use “The Rocks” on their labels, even if the winery is located within the larger Walla Walla Valley AVA.

The petition names 19 wine producers that have vineyards within the proposed AVA although only three of these producers have winery facilities within the proposed AVA.  I anticipate more wineries will establish facilities here due to the AVA requirements.

The Verdict: At last the Final Verdict!  The TTB has given the proposed “The Rocks District of Milton-Freewater” AVA approval.  The AVA lies entirely within the Oregon portion of Walla Walla Valley AVA which, in turn, lies within the Columbia Valley AVA.  The TTB filed the ruling on February 6, 2015 and will publish this approval in the Federal Register on February 9. 2015.  The new AVA will become effective 30 days from the published date.  I predict we will soon see some exciting wines using the “The Rocks District of Milton-Freewater AVA” on their label!

Post authored by Brenda Audino, CWE. After a long career as a wine buyer with Twin Liquors in Austin, Texas, Brenda has recently moved to Napa, California (lucky!) where she runs the Spirited Grape wine consultancy business. Brenda is a long-time member of SWE and has attended many conferences – be sure to say “hi” at this year’s conference in NOLA!

Are you interested in being a guest blogger or a guest SWEbinar presenter for SWE?  Click here for more information!

Guest Post: From New York Grapes to the CWE!

Joe's wife, Isabelle, harvesting Frontenac Gris last fall.

Jeff”s wife, Isabelle, harvesting Frontenac Gris last fall.

Today we have a guest post – all about the long and winding road to wine certification – from Jeff Anderson. Jeff first realized his passion for wine through home winemaking, and he is now studying for his CSW. Jeff intends to pursue the CWE and create a “third career” as a wine educator. Read on for more of Jeff’s story!

Home winemaking – like so many other things – can take on a life of its own. My home winemaking is way out of control and just as I think that I’m back in charge, I get an award or a compliment from someone that matters and I’m off again.

What do I have to blame for this obsession?  I can think of three things: First, I won a gold medal for my Sangiovese in the 2006 International Winemaker Magazine Contest. Second, In 2008 I won an award from a regional chapter of the American Wine Society for a Nebbiolo I made from a “Barolo” kit. Third, a neighbor in her 80s informed me that a glass of my wine allowed her to get the first good night’s sleep she’d had in a while. After all that – it was over. I was all about the wine. I even forgot how to make beer.

Now that my passion for winemaking has grown, I’m contemplating a second or third career as a wine educator. As a first step, I’ve begun my studies for the Certified Specialist of Wine (CSW) certification.

As I start out in pursuit of wine certification, I have come to realize just how much it would help to have some specific experiences in your background. It would be great, for instance, to be a wine merchant with an inventory of imported wines and overseas contacts.  I would imagine that differences in vintages and blends would be much clearer to a wine merchant or salesperson than they must be to the average person.

Bear Mountain Bridge in the Hudson River Valley

Bear Mountain Bridge in the Hudson River Valley

It would also be nice to have majored in geography. This really hit home when I started to tune into SWE’s free SWEbinars. A few courses in geology, Romance languages, organic chemistry, and history would help fill in some gaps as well. And for all you folks who tell people you are “just” a server in a restaurant, all of your time serving wine, spirits, or even beer will be a big help to you in your wine studies. Of course, a white tablecloth restaurant with a multiple-page wine list would be ideal, but keep in mind that every little bit helps.

As a member of the Society of Wine Educators, I really appreciate the excellent resources available to members who, like me, are on the path to certification. The webinars are lively, the pre- and post-tests available on the online Wine Academy are challenging, and the Study Guide reinforces how much I still need to know. There is also a cellphone app for trivia quizzes organized according to white, red, sparkling, and dessert wines as well as spirits.

I was astounded to see how broad the subject of wine and winemaking is.  It is virtually like learning a new language.

My experience – as a small scale grape grower and winemaker – has allowed me to learn and really understand quite a few things about this magical liquid called wine. For instance, I know why a winemaker might leave stems in the must, pick grapes before they are ripe, or use some white grapes in a red wine.  And malolactic fermentation – it’s not exactly fermentation – I really get that.

Our grape-growing adventures are located in the area around Albany in upstate New York, where we grow cold hardy grapes for wine.  We are surrounded by a fast-growing group of wineries in the Upper Hudson Valley Wine Trail. They are very promising, make exciting wines, and are proud to count some excellent winemakers among the group.

But it’s all too easy to focus on the grapes you grow and wines you make – and forget there is an enormous body of knowledge about hundreds of wine around the world. Take my advice, and break out of your comfort zone – it’s a wide world of wine!

There you have it. All I need to do now is learn everything about wine that everybody else knows! Now, that doesn’t sound so hard – does it?

JJeff Anderson Bioeff Anderson is a lecturer in Criminal Justice for Sage College in Albany New York.  Previously he held a variety of positions in juvenile justice and criminal justice and consulted with the National Institute of Corrections and the National Drug Court Institute.  He is an award-wining amateur winemaker and grows grapes along with Amorici Vineyard in Valley Falls, New York – on the Upper Hudson Valley Wine Trail. He is a member of the Society of Wine Educators and is preparing for his first certification test. He can be contacted on Twitter as @Garagist.

Its Official! The Rocks of Milton-Freewater is (almost) an AVA!

USDA map of the Rocks of Milton-Freewater AVA

USDA map of the Rocks of Milton-Freewater AVA

After a long and winding road to approval, the TTB just today voted to approved Oregon’s 18th AVA, the 3,770-acre “Rocks District of Milton–Freewater” American Viticultural Area.

Located in Umatilla County, Oregon, the new AVA is entirely within the existing Walla Walla Valley AVA, which straddles the Oregon-Washington State border and is, in turn, located entirely within the Columbia Valley AVA.   Known for its rocky soil, the new AVA is located where the Walla Walla River flows out of the foothills of the Blue Mountains on its way to the Walla Walla Valley.

The AVA, which includes part of the town of Milton-Freewater, is located entirely within the state of Oregon – which means that many of the wineries that currently use the grapes of the area are located in Washington State and therefore, according to current laws, might not be able to use the AVA on their labels. How this shakes out is yet to be seen. 

The TTB will publish its final ruling on Monday, February 9th, with the rule (and the AVA) becoming effective on March 11, 2015. To read the final ruling, click here.

Stay tuned for more information!

It’s nice to be in the Hall of Fame!

Sharro ItalyOur heartfelt congratulations go out to Sharron McCarthy – SWE Past President and current Director Emeritus!

Sharron was – just yesterday – inducted into the Italian Trade Commission’s Hall of Fame for “outstanding leadership, contribution, and lifelong dedication to the appreciation, education and marketing of Italian wines in the US.” The Hall of Fame induction took place at a luncheon at New York City’s Waldorf Astoria Hotel, as part of VINO 2015 – Italian Wine Week.

Sharron, who is Vice President of Wine Education for Banfi Vintners, is a gifted wine educator and is consistently among the most popular and highest-rated speakers at SWE’s Annual Conference. (Be sure to congratulate her and say “hi” next August in NOLA)! Harry Mariani, the President Emeritus of Banfi Vintners, was also among the 17 honorees at the event.

It’s nice to be in the Hall of Fame!

 

This Tuesday – “The Insider’s Guide to the CSW Exam!”

This Tuesday – February 3rd – at 7:00 pm, central time - we once again offer our “The Insider’s Guide to the CSW Exam.”  If you are currently pursuing the CSW Certification, or considering the CSW as your next stage of professional development, this session is for Insiders guide for blogyou! This online workshop will cover all aspects of the CSW, including what the test covers, how difficult the test is, what type of questions to expect, the resources available to students, and how long SWE recommends for study before sitting the exam. This session is led by Jane A. Nickles, CSS, CWE (SWE’s Director of Education). You will have a chance to ask any and all questions about the CSW – she’ll answer just about any questions save for “what are the answers?” The Insider’s Guide to the CSW Exam will be offered on Tuesday, February 3rd at 7:00 pm central time.

 

SWE’s SWEbinar series is unique in that it is offered free-of-charge, and open to the public! We also try to accomodate all schedules by offering sessions on weekdays and weekends, as well as daytime and evening hours. If you have a topic you would like to see addressed, or a time-of-day that would work for you, please let our Director of Education, Jane A. Nickles know via email at jnickles@societyofwineeducators.org

computer outside 5Login Instructions: At the appointed time, just click on the link. There is no need to register in advance. Links will be attached to the date and time announcement of each session in the list below and will go “live” a few hours before the scheduled date.

When the SWE Adobe Connect homepage appears, click on “enter as a guest,” type in your name, and click “enter room.” Remember that each session is limited to 100 attendees, and that several of our past sessions have reached capacity. We are hoping to avoid this issue in the future by offering more SWEbinars, but its still a good idea to log on early!

  • If you have never attended an Adobe Connect event before, it is also a good idea to test your connection ahead of time (just click on the link).
  • If you are having any trouble with your Adobe Connect connection, please see our SWEbinar Trouble-shooting page.

Link: Tuesday, February 3rd – 7:00 pm central time – The Insider’s Guide to the CSW Exam – presented by Jane A. Nickles, CSS, CWE (Link will go “live” a few hours before the scheduled date/time.) 

If you have any questions, please contact Jane Nickles: jnickles@societyofwineeducators.org

Click here for the 2015 SWEbinar Calendar

Shrubs and Switchels!

Shrub CherryShrubs and Switchels! It sounds more like a project for an arborist than a “new discovery” for mixologists. However, mixologists have “discovered” the two, and are quickly realizing that what was ancient can be new and exciting in the modern era of mixology.

Shrubs and switchels have a rich history with accounts of “drinking vinegars” dating back to 15th century England’s use as medicinal cordials.  Shrubs are an intriguing blend of fruit, sugar, and vinegar created to preserve fruit long after harvest.  Recipes and methods for making shrubs may vary, but the result is a delightful liquid that captures the essence of fresh fruit.  A proper shrub has a flavor that’s both tart and sweet, so it stimulates the appetite while quenching thirst.

Switchels are a blend of molasses (honey or maple syrup), water, vinegar, and usually ginger.  In Laura Ingalls Wilder’s book The Long Winter, there is reference to a switchel-like drink claiming how it quenched the thirst without upsetting the stomach after hot work making hay.

Using shrubs and switchels to create refreshing beverages is truly an American story that came about in the 18th century.  A 19th century magazine noted, “When the thermometer ranges among the nineties, it is not so much a question of what we shall eat as what we shall drink.”  (Surely, SWE members would agree!)

Physicians cautioned that ice water, which was difficult to obtain and maintain, was a “very grim and deleterious beverage, every glass of which should be labeled with skull and crossbones.” Too much ice water, they believed, could cause indigestion, bloating and other more serious problems.  Shrubs and switchels provided an acceptable alternative, especially as these drinks would “cheer, but not inebriate.”  It was not long after, with shrubs 3further American ingenuity, they were served with whiskey and brandy.  In 1862 when Jerry Thomas’ groundbreaking book The Bar-Tender’s Guide was published, shrubs had become so ingrained in our cocktail culture that several were featured.

Fast forward to today and you will find a collection of mixologists across the country reaching back through history to reclaim vinegar’s more palatable past.  According to Tony Abou-Ganim, superstar bartender and author of The Modern Mixologist, “Skilled mixologists construct cocktails not from set recipes, but from building blocks of base spirit, modifiers and accents. The key is to balance between the flavors of alcohol, sweet, acid and bitter” Shrubs and switchels offer an alternative to lemons and limes for adding that acidity.

A number of shrubs are now available commercially, but they are also easy to make.  Just mix fresh fruit, sugar and vinegar together and let them steep until the flavors blend and balance to your taste.  Essentially any fruit from berries to melons and apples to rhubarb can be made into a shrub.  A good rule of thumb is one part fruit, one part sugar, and one part vinegar.  You can then adjust to taste.

There are two basic methods to create shrubs; hot or cold.

The hot method: This method is faster, but creates a jammy result.  This method works best in preserving harder fruits like apples and rhubarb.  Add equal parts sugar and water to saucepan, heat and stir until the sugar dissolves.  Add fruit and cook on low heat until the fruit juice blends into the syrup. Let the mixture cool, strain and then add vinegar to the syrup.  Bottle and let rest in the refrigerator for a couple of weeks to further integrate.

The cold method: This method takes longer, but gives a fresher fruitier result.  This method works best in preserving delicate fruits and berries.  Steep the fruit in sugar for 24 hours (or longer) in a covered container in the refrigerator.  After a day or two, your fruit should be swimming in juice and syrup.  The longer it sits, the more flavorful the shrub will be.  Add vinegar and let the mixture sit again for 24 hours.  Strain the syrup from the solids and bottle the shrub.   Shake the bottle well before using as some sugar may settle to the bottom.

shrubs 2Regardless of the method all shrubs mellow with time.  The tartness and sweetness remain, but they start to harmonize after a few weeks in the fridge.

In addition to the choice of fruits, experimentation can be made with the type of sugar and vinegar used.  White sugar is most versatile, but brown, raw, honey and molasses can have some interesting results.  Apple cider vinegar is most commonly used, but others have had success with white wine, red wine, and even balsamic vinegar.

Shrubs can add depth and complexity to a cocktail, but be careful.  Since they are already acidic, they don’t always play well with citrus juice.  Use a light hand and taste as you’re building your ingredients.

I have experimented with substituting shrubs in place of the acid component in my cocktails.  I use a base spirit, a shrub, a complementary liqueur or cordial, and bitters to create my concoctions.  While not all have been successful, the creative process has been fun!  Two cocktails that stood out as triumphs were one made with rum, blackberry shrub, ginger liqueur and lime bitters and another made with brandy, lemon shrub, orange liqueur and orange bitters.  I look forward to my continued research in this “new discovery” of ancient “drinking vinegars”.

What are some of your uses for shrubs and switchels?  Please share your experiments and recipes as we dabble with history.

Post authored by Brenda Audino, CWE. After a long career as a wine buyer with Twin Liquors in Austin, Texas, Brenda has recently moved to Napa, California (lucky!) where she runs the Spirited Grape wine consultancy business. Brenda is a long-time member of SWE and has attended many conferences – be sure to say “hi” at this year’s conference in NOLA!

Are you interested in being a guest blogger or a guest SWEbinar presenter for SWE?  Click here for more information!