One of the biggest challenges anyone dedicated to the local, seasonal way of eating faces, especially in the Midwest, is what the heck to do in the winter, when there's less variety of produce and it seems root veggies are in every. single. dish.
It's no different for us here at HOLLOW LEG. Being dedicated to sustainable cocktails, working within the limits of freezing Chicago winters seems ridiculous.
Sustainable cocktails, sure! But is this a sustainable business model? What the heck are you spiking cocktails with in the dead of winter?
And forget about the winter! Did you know here at HOLLOW LEG, when we work the Midwest scene, we steer clear of citrus fruits, which are pretty much the staple in mixology? They are used in everything from garnishes to anchoring flavour, and for good reason: they lend their acidity, bitterness, and characteristic sharp flavour to create complexity and balance in cocktails.
I’ve been asked why. Why no citrus? Why not just make my life easier and squeeze that wedge of lemon into the Pucker Up, a drink that uses fresh cranberry sauce, rose hip liqueur, vodka, and egg whites? Isn’t there something lacking without citrus?
The answer to me is simple. It’s unnecessary.
Unlike our lack of common baking spices in the Midwest (if someone knows where I can source local cinnamon, black pepper, and mace, please let me know, because for now I’m sourcing Fair Trade!), acidity can be achieved right here in the Midwest through a seemingly unusual but traditional source: Vinegar.
That’s right, y’all. Vinegar.
It was easy here in ChiTown when the spring and summer stopped by for a visit. Anyone who has tasted rhubarb knows you need no lemon to make it zing; young blueberries and blackberries are tart as all get-up; tart cherries hit at the perfect time and make for a gorgeous sour syrup; quince and crab apples are fantastic tart-ing staples; and persimmons nearly burn your tongue off with their astringency, which can fake as something sour when balanced well.
It’s when cranberry season comes ‘round, I know we’re at the end. As soon as cranberries hit the market this year, I had a mini-panic attack. How am I going to incorporate acidity into cocktails through the long winter?
I have a whole pantry of locally dried fruits and preserves, but it was a Midwestern baking tradition that made me reach for vinegar.
Nelson Algren, back in the 1930s, wrote in his book, America Eats:
With that I thought, “Well, dang. I bet it’d work for cocktails, too.” So I created the Pucker Up, a delightfully unique cocktail with a bitter-fruity cranberry sauce-syrup, smooth CH Vodka, KOVAL Rose Hip Liqueur, a shaken egg white from Meadow Haven Farm, and homemade apple cider vinegar. Just a few drops.
Here’s the recipe:
2 oz homemade cranberry sauce-syrup (cranberries from Ellis Family Farm)
1/2 oz KOVAL Rose Hip Liqueur
1.25 oz CH Vodka
1/8 tsp (a couple drops) of homemade apple cider vinegar
1 Meadow Haven egg white
(or if you don’t have access to Meadow Haven, use a pasture-raised egg from a source you trust. I cannot stress this enough. It can be harmful to your health if you consume raw eggs, but a local farmer has your back and generally, their eggs are pretty dope!)
Combine all ingredients and shake vigorously. And I mean vigorously. For at least 20 seconds to get an incredible merengue out of the egg.
Then shake with ice.
Strain into a pretty glass (it doesn’t have to be any particular shape as long as it makes you smile) by tipping the glass at an angle and pouring the libation slowly down the side. Shake out any remaining egg white over top.
Garnish, or don’t garnish.
What resulted was something tangy, airy, slightly bitter, and aromatic. It was delightful. Folks would ask me, “What is in this?! I can’t put my finger on it,” and when I’d say, “Homemade apple cider vinegar,” their jaws dropped.
It’s true, folks. We’re hard core here in the Midwest. We don’t need no stinkin’ citrus! You can make plenty of varieties of vinegars at home, and they can all be incorporated into cocktails beautifully.
Listen, I’m not knocking those cocktails that use citrus, but I find that when we place limitations on ourselves, it forces us to be more creative with what we concoct.
That’s the whole idea of HOLLOW LEG: Creating unique drinks from local, forgotten and oftentimes underused ingredients to please your palate and inspire you to keep reaching for the weird.
Because weird can be amazing.