Sunday, May 18, 2014

Homemade Apple Cider Vinegar: Because You Can

Being from New England, I always looked forward to apple picking season. It meant the smell of hay and fallen apples rotting in the cool, crisp air, warm apple cider with clove studded oranges, and cider donuts at haunted hay rides.

Hard apple cider was the first alcoholic beverage I enjoyed, and still enjoy. As my tastes have changed I’ve discovered new ways of enjoying the flavors of apples. In the past I wouldn’t have had apple cider vinegar in the pantry but now I’m fermenting my own and have a preferred brand at the Hollywood Farmer’s Market. The cider I’m fermenting? Made from apples I crushed in Yucaipa, CA last Los Angeles fall (picking apples on a 78 degree day).

A Google search of apple cider vinegar brings up a wide range of bold claims about the liquid’s cure-all powers. From lowering your blood pressure, soothing dandruff, and as a kick start to weight loss, vinegar is seemingly the answer for a variety of ailments. It may be a placebo effect but I feel better after drinking apple cider vinegar every morning, which I’ve done for over a year. My increased consumption of it, along with my interest in home brewing and fermentation, is what prompted me to make my own.

As the Desperate Bicycles once wisely said, “It was easy, it was cheap. Go and do it.” Making apple cider vinegar at home is easy and, if you don’t mind the fruit flies, a satisfying intro to fermentation. To get started, you will need a mother.

A mother is the base of vinegar. If you have made sourdough at home before, using a starter, you’re familiar with the concept of a mother. A mother is a bacteria culture that gives vinegar, sourdough, and fermented beverages like kombucha their sour taste by converting ethanol into acetic acid. If you are lucky and live where you can buy a mother from a farmer’s market or natural food store, great! If not, you can grow your own. You need a bottle of raw, unfiltered apple cider such as Braggs (make sure it already contains a small mother), and a bottle of alcoholic cider. Gently mix the Braggs to distribute the mother and combine the cider and vinegar in your glass jar. Cover with a clean kitchen towel for about two weeks and bam! a mother. You could search Craigslist as there is always something trying to give away or sell a vinegar mother. At least in Los Angeles. Definitely near San Francisco.

The process takes about a total of four weeks from start to finish. Watching the process is slow but magical. The cider goes from clear golden to a dark oxidized murky brown before becoming golden and beautiful once again. The whole time a pale, bubbly, skin-like mother forms on top, looking like something straight out of a cheesy 80s horror movie. It is amazing.

Homemade Apple Cider Vinegar Recipe
This recipe starts off as a gallon and reduces due to evaporation.

A large, wide mouth glass jar (I used this one.)
Alcoholic apple cider
Kitchen/tea towel
String or a rubber band
Vinegar mother

Clean the vessel well with soap and water.
Add alcoholic cider vigorously to aerate.
Add mother.
Cover with kitchen towel and secure around the neck with twine or rubber band.
Put in a cool, dry place. Stir gently every day for the first week so mold doesn't form on top.

That’s all you have to do. Taste after three weeks see how it’s progressing. Once you are satisfied with your vinegar transfer to bottles, label with the date, and enjoy. After aging for four weeks the first batch had sharp apple acidity, fresh fruit aromas, and was only slightly funky. You can cook with it, drink in water, or make a shrub. Homemade vinegar shouldn’t be used for preserving unless you measure the acidity using specialized tools.  

Saturday, November 2, 2013

Drinks to Make: November

Photo by James Ransom via Food52.

As it often does in Los Angeles, November snuck up on us. A trip to San Francisco last weekend kick-started our longing for cold weather but LA has been reluctant to comply.

Despite the sun, here are a few of the wintery drinks we're looking forward to this month: 

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Pairing Saag Paneer & Pumpkin Beers

It was a one-off, a fridge-clearing-out kind of pairing. Pairing saag paneer with Southern Tier's Pumking was a complete accident. 

We had this meal last October but by the time we realized that this combination worked pumpkin beers had disappeared from the shelves. You can't get even get Southern Tier in Los Angeles! Our bottle was a gift. 

This year we planned ahead and choose three pumpkin beers, Alaskan Pumpkin Porter, Shipyard Pumpkinhead Ale, and Dogfish Head Punkin Ale, made a batch of saag paneer, and tried to recreate the magic.  

Pumpkin and ginger are a classic pairing, showing up in savory soups as well as desserts. The fresh ginger in the saag and pumpkin notes in the beers play off each other, balancing the rich diary elements of buttermilk and cheese with acidity. Spices, including red pepper flakes, turmeric, and cumin, are brought out by the sweet, earthy beers. This is definitely a meal we recommend trying. And fast, before the pumpkin beers are gone from shelves for another year.

Alaskan Pumpkin Porter (Mike's favorite)
Nose: Earthy. 
Palate: Balanced pumpkin, cocoa, and Christmas spices with a complex, sweet finish. 

Shipyard Pumkinhead Ale
Nose: Yankee Candle.
Palate: Cider-like; light bodied and overly spiced. 

Dogfish Head Punkin Ale (Abby's favorite)
Nose: Pumpkin bread, heavy on the spice. 
Palate: Belgian and brown sugar; lots of pleasant, balanced sweetness.

Saturday, July 20, 2013

Greenbar Collective

Last week we were treated to a tour of the Greenbar Collective, a craft distillery located in Downtown Los Angeles. The distillery, tasting room, and bottling facility are located in a warehouse off 8th street. This building produces all of the company's bitters and liqueurs as well as their gin and Slow Hand whiskey. Their products are available at many bars and restaurants around Los Angeles and at select retail outlets across the country. 

There are a lot of flavored liquors out there, some of which are downright horrifying. Greenbar's spirits are refreshing in that they taste exactly like what goes into them. Allow us a Willy Wonka moment: their vanilla vodka was rich and deep, the hibiscus liqueur was appropriately sour and bitter, and the TRU organic garden vodka tasted like herbs. There were no off flavors or cloying aftertastes. 

After the tour we were able to sample all of their products in their upstairs tasting room. Our pick is the Grand Poppy, an European style aperitif/amaro, made with ingredients from and inspired by the California landscape. Greenbar offers tours and tastings, both of which come highly recommended by us. 

Friday, July 5, 2013

Summer Shrubin'

After two root vegetable and greens filled seasons, the markets are finally overflowing with fruit. Purchasing tons of nectarines, peaches, strawberries, and cherries is especially tempting after the lack of variety at the markets in the winter. You could cut back on these purchases but the better option is to take all the fruit home, regardless of your fridge space, and make a shrub.

Shrubs are made by combining fruit with vinegar. You then cook the mixture or leave it to steep before adding sugar to tame the vinegar's acidity, bottling, and storing in the fridge. Also called drinking vinegars, shrubs can be mixed with flat or sparkling water in addition to using them in cocktails. This article has great information about the history and uses of shrubs.

Using this recipe from Food52, we made a strawberry shrub during the spring and have been drinking it nonstop. Although there are commercial shrubs and plenty of fruit infused vinegars on the market, making your own is so easy and gives you endless options for experimenting. Making our own shrub also meant we could use our favorite apple cider vinegar from Ha's Apple Farm. We never thought we'd have a preferred vinegar, but we totally do, and it is this one. 

Since shrubs are bright and refreshing, they make the perfect addition to the lighter cocktails of summer. The Summer Shrubin' was created to make use of the complex, fruity, and acidic shrub while creating a low alcohol, sessionable day drink. Hey, it's summer!

Summer Shrubin'
This recipe makes two drinks.

1 1/2 oz. shrub
6 oz. sweet vermouth (Dolin is preferred)
4 oz. soda water

Pour vermouth and shrub into an iced cocktail shaker

Stir for 30 seconds
Strain into chilled coupe
Top with soda water

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Southern California Whiskey Club


There is a theory that, in order to make a Sunday night more palatable, one should attend a Sunday night whiskey tasting. We tested this theory at the first meeting of the Southern California Whiskey Club in late January and found it to be true. 

The inaugural meeting of the SCWC was held at Far Bar in Little Tokyo and featured wheated bourbons from the Stitzel-Weller distillery. The Kentucky-based distillery closed in 1991*, leaving behind an expansive portfolio, including the storied Pappy Van Winkle. 

Bar Made and 38 fellow Club members tasted our way through 1/2 ounce pours of 11 whiskies (full list below). Our friend Chris, founder of the SCWC, presented each bottle, gave a brief description, and then stopped by each table to pour and answer questions. 

The format of the club was relaxed and casual, with an interesting mix of members comprised of alcohol industry reps, casual whiskey fans, and serious drinkers. Everyone was there to drink, talk, and to learn. In order to underscore the casual vibe of the Club we'll share the Club rules with you:

  1. Have fun and allow others to have fun!
  2. No telling others how they should drink their whisky! (If you want to drink your whisky over fruity pebbles cereal, that is fine). It is yours to enjoy.
  3. Please be respectful of the places of business that allow us to have our meetings at their location.
  4. No mean drunks
  5. If you are a mean drunk, please remember rule #1.

SCWC's next meeting is coming up in March and is a Tax Stamp Night. If you're interested in joining you can find out more information and contact Chris here.

Stitzel-Weller Night Whiskey List
  1. Cabin Still 1989
  2. Cabin Still 2012
  3. Old Fitzgerald BID DSP-KY-16
  4. Old Fitzgerald BID DSP-KY-1 2012
  5. Very Special Old Fitzgerald BHC Louisville 1994**
  6. Very Special Old Fitzgerald 12 year Current Release
  7. Pappy Van Winkle 20 Year 2010
  8. Pappy Van Winkle 20 Year 2012
  9. W.L. Weller Special Reserve 7 year 1995***
  10. W.L. Weller Centennial 10 year BHC Louisville 1994
  11. Rebel Yell 90 proof Bourbon 1982 Tax Stamp
*Stitzel-Weller recently announced that they would begin distilling again, as has been confirmed by several sources.
** Mike's favorite of the night
*** Abby's favorite of the night

Monday, February 18, 2013


On Friday night Bar Made went back to school with the Institute of Domestic Technology to study cocktail making*. We mixed up bottles of bitters and limoncello, then used our newfound cocktail knowledge and an assortment of homemade liqueurs and extractions to craft a unique drink. 

Our class was taught by the Institute's founderJoseph Shuldiner, and Plow & Gun coffee co-founder Daniel Kent. Joseph and Daniel walked us through how to make extractions using herbs, dried fruit, and Everclear before letting the class loose on a table filled with extractions grouped into floral, earthy, bitter, and fruity categories. Students were encouraged to taste the pure extractions before adding them to our bottles. Our favorites were the lemongrass, peppercorn, and wormwood. #bitterparty

From there we moved on to making liqueurs using citrus rinds, simple syrup, and more Everclear. Samples of a batch of limoncello that Joseph made were passed around, and the flavor was far superior to many of the bottled varieties available at liquor stores. Once you realize how easy it is to make a bottle of bitters or a liqueur using whatever you have on hand, it seems weirder to not make this stuff yourself. 

Joseph and Daniel were funny, knowledgeable, and eager to make you as excited about cocktails as they are. One of our unique cocktails tasted like ab-so-lutely nothing, and the instructors were there to taste and offer suggestions how to improve the final product. One half of Bar Made has taken a class at the Institute before and we see many more classes in our future.

*The setting was Greystone Mansion, a historic, much-used filming location. Specifically the setting was the speakeasy in the billard room in the basement bowling alley of Greystone Mansion. More specifically, this