Verjus: crisp, fresh and sour, it’s the new cocktail acid
When I started seeing references to “green juice” all over social media a few years back, I’ll admit I became pretty excited. I was certain verjus — the pressed juice made from under-ripe grapes — was finally going mainstream. People, at last, were tweaking to the promise of this up-and-comer, known to many as the chef’s “secret weapon,” used in salads, sauces and anything that needs a hit of acidity.
Imagine my disappointment when I discovered that “green juice” was in no way a reference to the elixir formerly known as “vert jus,” but instead, merely a name for liquefied kale, apparently a key component of the latest fad juicing diet. Verjus, on the other hand, is no fad, but rather a somewhat forgotten ingredient with a long and reputable culinary history that is finally being revived. It’s also being called to the bar, as tenders catch on to its promise in cocktails.
Verjus’ stock went up last summer, when the infamous drug cartel-induced Great Lime Shortage of 2014 got people interested in lemons, grapefruits and, of course, verjus.
“I actually thought the whole limepocalypse thing was a little overblown,” says David Greig, a survivor of the 2014 ordeal, who manages the cocktail program at Toronto’s Hoof Cocktail Bar, Black Hoof and Rhum Corner. “I mean, first of all, prices in Canada weren’t affected nearly as much as they were in the United States. Second of all, I can see how, for a place like Tommy’s in San Francisco, it would be a real financial issue. But for your average Toronto bar, it’s like: ‘Really? You can’t just ride out this minor hike for a little while?’”
Indeed, the hype last summer was at a fevered pitch on social media as bartenders claimed that limes were over. Last year’s acid. A small clutch became immediate converts to verjus. For good reason: It’s crisp, fresh and sour — just what you want to balance out a little gin, rum or tequila.
“The upside of the lime panic is that it wound up being a really great opportunity for everyone to tinker with vinegars and other acids, like verjus,” says Greig.
He even came up with a bold and twangy cocktail that uses it, the de Lioncourt, a twist on the Trinidad Sour; it’s named for the main character of the Anne Rice novels, vampire Lestat de Lioncourt, because of its blood-red colour. The cocktail is on the menu at Cocktail Bar but, if you can get your hands on a little Pinot Noir verjus, it can be made in your home bar with this recipe.
1 oz El Dorado 12-year-old rum
1/oz Angostura bitters
1/2 oz honey syrup*
1/2 oz Pinot Noir verjus
Pinch of nutmeg
Add all ingredients (except nutmeg) to ice in a cocktail shaker. Shake and strain into chilled small cocktail glass.
*Honey syrup is simple: heat one part honey with one part water; cool and bottle.