Working like an alchemist, Rodrigo Vargas ferments porter beer, cider, junmai sake, and wine and produces vinegars for his company American Vinegar Works in Lowell. He packages them in clear glass bottles with rounded shoulders like a spirit and handcrafts a half-dozen types in small batches. Their vibrant colors are striking. Fermenting for months in oak or small rye whiskey barrels, a method that was used in the 1800s, imparts a fusion of flavors. The vinegars, he says, have a “sense of place.” One is made with beer from Mayflower Brewing Co. of Plymouth and has a malty flavor; another with a slight sweetness from local cider is also fermented with Cape Cod cranberries, while a hotter, smokier variety using Massachusetts apple and pear cider includes hot peppers and spices. Sake and wine from California is the base for others (about $10 for 8.5 ounces). “I craft vinegar to emphasize its layers,“ Vargas says. They piggyback on the shoulders of the craft beer and alcohol movement. A splash or drizzle brightens a dish and boosts a sauce, soup, or a cocktail. The fruitier ones can enhance a dessert. Home cooks are often not well versed in how to use the culinary product other than for vinaigrettes. Vargas found this when he sampled his wares at farmers’ markets. “Folks really like different kinds of vinegar and want to learn how they shine through with foods.” Available at Formaggio Kitchen store locations; Savenor’s Market, 92 Kirkland St., Cambridge, 617-576-6328; Mill City Cheesemongers, 250 Jackson St., Lowell, 978-364-0229; Brother’s Marketplace locations, or go to www.americanvinegarworks.com.
ANN TRIEGER KURLAND
Ann Trieger Kurland can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.