Citrus has long ruled the roost as the balancing acid in cocktails, but as bartenders continue to raid the kitchen pantry and revive 19th-century ingredients, a few alternatives have taken hold. New on the scene are vinegars—including varieties such as white balsamic, tomato and melon. Also on the rise are the once-forgotten soda-fountain phosphates, which deliver pure sour without any fragrance. Cocktail historian Darcy O'Neil, author of Fix the Pumps, started bottling bygone pharmacy elixirs (available by mail order) in 2010. His Lactart (a sour, aromaless acid found in yogurt, buttermilk and Lambics) and Acid Phosphate (a tart solution of calcium, magnesium and potassium) started edging their way onto
New York menus earlier this year.
Where to try it: Damon Boelte, barman at Prime Meats (465 Court St at Luquer St, Carroll Gardens, Brooklyn; 718-254-0327, frankspm.com), has gone vinegar crazy, and since last fall has created seven recipes that rely on the liquid. We especially like his Sour Cherry Sour ($9), in which a tangy Austrian fruit vinegar, along with lemon juice, brightens bourbon and chocolaty crme de cacao. Out in Red Hook, Fort Defiance (365 Van Brunt St at Dikeman St, Red Hook, Brooklyn; 347-453-6672,fortdefiancebrooklyn.com) proprietor St. John Frizell brought the Angostura Sour ($9) north via New Orleans bartender Paul Gustings; the drink was inspired by a cocktail prescribed for hangovers in the early 1890s. Acid Phosphate perks up the frothy, garnet mixture of lemon syrup (made by muddling peel with sugar), rich Angostura rum and a full ounce of botanical Angostura bitters. And Eben Freeman, director of bar operations at Ai Fiori (400 Fifth Ave between 36th and 37th Sts; 212-613-8660, aifiorinyc.com), uses Lactart to boost the sour component of his Aperitivo (saffron-infused Beefeater gin, sweet Dolin Blanc vermouth, absinthe and Ligurian lemon soda; $14) without overdoing the citrus.