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Yesteryear medicinals part of today's cocktails

SUBMITTED PHOTOS - Interrobang vermouth is made in the Pacific Northwest. It has a unique flavor.

Hit me again, barkeep!

That’s not a phrase I use often, but it’s spring break, and I bet it’s being heard at poolside bars around the country. And why not? Vacations are meant for indulgences, so if that means having a cocktail or two, so be it.

But, don’t have just an ordinary cocktail. Raise the bar with one or both of my most recent food finds.

My husband Mark and I attended the Oregon Distillers Guild’s artisan spirits tasting event, Toast, earlier this month. We learned a lot about spirits and enjoyed sampling a wide variety of new products. Two in particular that caught our interest were Interrobang sweet vermouth and Bradley’s Kina Tonic.

An interrobang is a punctuation mark. It’s a combination of an exclamation and question mark and is used at the end of an exclamatory rhetorical question. The question Interrobang poses is, “Could your cocktail be any better?”

Vermouth is a fortified wine flavored with botanicals such as roots, barks, flowers, seeds, herbs and spices. It was originally used for medicinal purposes, but its real claim to fame is as an aperitif. Late in the 19th century bartenders began experimenting with it. It’s commonly used in classic cocktails, such as Manhattans, Martinis and Negroni.

Interrobang is made locally with Pacific Northwest wine grapes and fortified Clear Creek brandy. Its flavorings include wormwood, the herb gentian and 11 other organic or sustainable botanicals. It is delicious by itself or in a cocktail. Ask for it at your local liquor store or visit whatisinterrobang.com.

Bradley's Kina Tonic is a concentrated product that tastes much different from other tonics.

The second discovery was Bradley’s Kina Tonic made by Bradley’s Tonic Co., the Pacific Northwest’s first tonic producer. Believe me — this is not the tonic you find on the grocery shelf.

This tonic comes in concentrated form. It is made completely by hand in small batches from a recipe right out of a history book. It is made of imported cinchona bark, also known as quina which contains quinine (where they get Kina), plus a secret blend of spices.

Since it is a concentrate, to make a cocktail you blend the tonic with seltzer or club soda to make a balanced tonic water.

A little bit goes a long way; a bottle will make about 16 cocktails. It is tasty and completely different from bottled tonic. You can learn more about and purchase it online at kinatonic.com.

Want to shake up your cocktails even more? Take a class on herbal mixology. The Traditional Roots Institute at the National College of Natural Medicine is offering a three-part series focusing on blending botanicals into tasty tonics.

The class synopsis reads: Blending the ancient world of botanical medicine with that of the modern bar mixologist, this class develops a flavorful and healing balance between the nasty-tasting tinctures of the past and cocktails loaded with sugar at your local bar. All sessions include lectures and hands-on projects with recipes and samples to take home.

The first session, to be held 1-4 p.m. April 4 will deal with Bitters, Digestives and Aperitifs. The course will focus on the rebirth of bitters and work to create several modern bitters.

The second session, to be held 1-4 p.m. April 25, will cover Shrubs and Vinegar Extracts. I’ve shared information about refreshing drinking vinegars with you. Learn to make these delicious beverages.

Liqueurs and cordials are covered in the last session, to be held 1-4 p.m. May 9. Cordials are a tasty blend of sweet, alcohol and classic tonic herbs for wellness.

Classes are $70 each, and it is $195 for the series. The classes are held at the NCNM campus, 049 S.W. Potter St. in Portland. Register or learn more online at traditionalroots.org.

Ready to make your own? My niece, Colleen Keane, shares her recipe for Fermented Herbal Sodas. She insists it is simple to brew your own soda; with a few easy steps and a little time, you can enjoy fizzy, effervescent beverages. They could be the refreshment you need during spring break.

Bon Appetit! Make eating an adventure!

Fermented Herbal Sodas

Fermented sodas are little more than herbal or fruit teas buzzing with an entire microbiome waiting to provide you with a refreshing drink and some beneficial gut bacteria.

Deciding on a starter culture: The first step is deciding which starter culture you will use for the fermentation. The most commonly used for sodas are ginger bugs (recipe follows), whey (from dairy) and kefir (a community of bacteria, proteins and complex sugars). Each starter brings a unique flavor to the final product. A ginger bug can easily be made in your kitchen and people with a dairy intolerance are still able to enjoy the finished beverage. A ginger bug is allowed to ferment before use and is made from ginger; sugar; and filtered, spring or reverse-osmosis water.

Choose your flavor: Next, you have to choose your flavorings. The options are only limited by your imagination and creativity. Fruits, roots, berries and herbs can all be used to brew fermented sodas. Start with a simple recipe and then experiment and see what you can come up with.

Picking the prebiotic: You will then need to decide on your food source for the beneficial bacteria (known as a prebiotic). There are many choices and I encourage you to test out which one you like the most. Cane sugar — in its many forms — is what is most commonly used. Remember that while the sweetener provides some of the taste for the final beverage you drink, the majority of it is feeding the bacteria in the ferment and most will be gone by the time you drink it.

The final step: The hardest part in making your fermented sodas is waiting for it to ferment. But the wait is worth it. You get to enjoy the pure decadence of a sparkling drink.

Ginger Bug recipe

2 inch piece of fresh, organic ginger

2 tablespoons sugar

2 cups filtered water

Finely chop ginger, skin and all and put into a quart size Mason jar. Add sugar and water. Screw on lid and give it a good shake to dissolve the sugar and mix it all together. Unscrew the lid and cover with loosely woven cloth. Place in a fairly warm spot in your house. Every day for the next 3-5 days, add another 1-2 inches of finely chopped ginger, 2 tablespoons sugar and 2 tablespoons filtered water and mix well. After 3-5 days, it should be frothing and smelling like yeast. This means it is ready. If it is in a cold location, it can take longer. If there are no bubbles or frothing after about a week, discard the whole thing and start again.

Super Simple Ginger Ale

2-inch piece of ginger roughly chopped (more if you want it spicier)

1/2 gallon filtered, spring or reverse osmosis water; divided in half

1/4 cup ginger bug (with ginger filtered out)

Bring 1/4 gallon water to a boil. Reduce heat to barely a simmer and add ginger. Simmer for 30 minutes, then strain. Add sugar and stir until completely dissolved. Add remaining 1/4 gallon water. Once it is cooled to blood temperature, add the ginger bug and give the liquid a good stir. Cover with cloth and let sit out to ferment until bubbles are visible (normally 1-3 days). Bottle it in a flip-top bottle (these can normally withstand the pressure), close the lid, and let it ferment at room temperature for another day or so until carbonated. Finally, put it in the refrigerator to chill and slow the fermentation process. Enjoy!

Colleen Keane

Randall welcomes your food questions and research suggestions. Contact her at 503-636-1281 ext. 100 or brandall@lakeoswegoreview.com. Follow her on Twitter @barbrandallfood.

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