Few restaurants in Portland, Oregon can boast the kind of zealous following of Andy Ricker's Pok Pok. Ricker, a James Beard Award-winning chef, frequently travels to Southeast Asia and focuses the majority of his dishes on recreating Thailand's street food, such as his wildly popular fish sauce wings. Along with Pok Pok's bold and often very spicy dishes, the restaurant's Som drinking vinegars have earned national renown, prompting Ricker to start selling the concentrated formulas for the home market.
Drinking vinegars date back as far as ancient Rome, when sour wine or vinegar was mixed with honey for soldiers in the Roman army. They are most common throughout Southeast Asia, but they're slowly gaining popularity here in the United States. Pok Pok makes four in-house: apple, honey, tamarind, and pomegranate. Served alone or in cocktails, the drinking vinegars have become such a staple of the restaurant that bottling the stuff was a major no-brainer.
Facilitating that endeavor is House Spirits Distillery, one of the first locations to retail the drinking vinegars outside of the Pok Pok restaurants. Pok Pok recently kicked off the release of the Som Drinking Vinegar line at House Spirits, offering tastings of the four original flavors. House Spirits' Matt Mount was on hand to demonstrate how to use the vinegars in cocktails, including one with the limited-release Gammal Krogstad, a barrel-aged aquavit flavored with star anise and caraway.
As for the drinking vinegars themselves, most people initially balk at the prospect of quaffing anything with the word "vinegar" in the name. And to be fair, some of these beverages do have a very vinegary aspect to them, though it is never overpowering.
The apple variety boasts the strongest vinegar presence of the four, but the acidity is cut somewhat by a pleasant apple-tinged sweetness. The honey also carries a certain level of that vinegar bite, but again, the measured sugar component makes for a smooth and easy-drinking beverage. The tamarind and pomegranate flavors are much sweeter, with little to no sour punch, making them the ideal choice for the first-timer or picky palate.
Pok Pok recommends diluting the concentrated vinegars with four parts soda water to one part concentrate. (If you like it stronger and more vinegary, mix two parts soda water to one part concentrate.) All four flavors are available online, as well as from House Spirits Distillery, Pok Pok, and its sister restaurants Pok Pok Noi, Whiskey Soda Lounge, and Ping in Portland. They sell for $16.95 to $18.95.