Vinegar: bringer of health, enhancer of flavour – and your new favourite cocktail ingredient.

Although vinegar has been widely used across cocktail history, it is the modern-day penchant for building libations based on shrubs (a tangy alloy of juicy, sweetened fruit and tart vinegar) that has seen this sorcerous ingredient once again rise to prominence.

“Vinegar is great in cocktails,” agrees Iain Griffiths, renowned White Lyan and Dandelyan bartender, and finalist of the Bacardi Legacy 2016 ‘Three Most Promising’ competition. So ardent is his admiration for the tonic that he developed the Carta Switchel, a boozy homage to history, heritage and the mighty v-word.

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Based on a 17th-century recipe, the Switchel is a distant cousin of the shrub, its fusion of fruit and vinegar laying the groundwork for a long, cool, health-giving (maybe) drink.

Thought to have originated in America, it is said to have been invented by sugarcane plantation and hayfield workers, who ached for a long and frosty refresher during the arduous summer months – although, the classic Switchel was actually a non-alcoholic draft, and was widely considered a Puritanical substitute to heavy spirits. It called for equal parts molasses, ginger, vinegar and water, which, Griffiths assures us, “tastes ghastly”.

“I sub the molasses for a good few slugs of Bacardi, and use the bittersweet flavour of grapefruit to give the drink some spice and much needed pop,” he says. “The vinegar brings a citrusy pucker to the drink, lifts the aroma and adds depth to the rum.”

The addition of Fernet Branca is another of Griffith’s innovations. An Italian bitter, he uses it sparingly here, a few quick dashes adding folksy spice notes, herbal richness and an extra sling of fermented vim. “It’s like Jägermeister on steroids,” he says.

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Over time, as affluent landholders appropriated their workers’ recipes – and similarly added copious amounts of liquor – the Switchel transitioned from vital mainstay to what the world now knows as a Rum Swizzle, the latter of which omits the vinegar, resulting in a sweeter, less complex flavour spectrum.

“It’s the perfect, boozy recipe for banishing the winter blues,” says Griffiths. I mean, it’s almost medicinal. Right?

Carta Switchel

The Carta Switchel (Serves 2)

Ingredients

50ml Bacardi Carta Blanca
50ml Bacardi Carta Oro
50ml freshly squeezed grapefruit juice
25ml simple sugar syrup
8 dashes Fernet Branca
8 dashes cider vinegar

To Serve

Chilled highball glass
Crushed ice
Sprig of mint, to garnish
Twist of grapefruit peel, to garnish

Instructions

  1. Add both types of Bacardi, the grapefruit juice, sugar syrup, Fernet Branca and cider vinegar to a cocktail shaker and shake well.
  2. Add a generous handful of crushed ice to the shaker, and mix thoroughly but briefly with a cocktail stirrer.
  3. Pour into the chilled highball glass and garnish with a sprig of mint and a twist of grapefruit peel.

From delicious to stratospheric…
“Use freshly juiced grapefruit and plenty of Bacardi.”

Shopping list…
“You could sub the Carta Blanca for Bacardi Heritage if you like. The higher ABV would give it that little extra kick. Carta Oro is Bacardi’s gold rum expression. It’s been aged on toasted French Oak for a minimum of six months and has a lovely warmth with little hits of vanilla.

“You’re also going to want a good quality cider vinegar such as Aspall.”