While Pok Pok Wing is best known for its sticky-spicy-sweet chicken, one of its more interesting foodstuffs are the Pok Pok Som, or drinking vinegars, a refreshing beverage akin to old-fashioned shrubs. “We first starting selling them at Pok Pok about six years ago, when I discovered the manufactured product in an Asian market and took them back to try,” explains chef Andy Ricker.
“We struggled along for a couple of years sourcing the vinegars through local Asian markets and with direct inquiries to companies in Japan until we finally decided to try and make them ourselves based on the old technique of making shrubs,” he adds. It helped that one of Ricker’s business partners had a background in wine making and experience with fermentation and beverage production. So, after some tinkering, they came up with a product they liked and decided to market it to the public.
Ricker notes that there’s actually very little difference between his drinking vinegars and old-fashioned shrubs, save for the name, and that Pok Pok Som’s flavor profiles are based on the Asian drinking vinegars popular in Taiwan, Korea, and Japan. He sought to match their sweetness and acidity in such a way that they would pair well with the spicy, bitter, and sour flavors of Thai cuisine.
At Pok Pok Wing, four flavors of Som are available: apple, honey, pomegranate, and tamarind. “We are working on pineapple, raspberry, and acai flavors, hopefully to be launched sometime this spring,” says Ricker. “In the Pok Pok restaurants in Portland, we also have small-batch seasonal flavors that we do not sell retail, but are available to dining customers by the single serving and in cocktails.”
So are vinegar-based drinks going to be the next big thing? Ricker thinks so. “It seems like it is pretty common now across the country. We can’t lay claim to starting the trend by any means, but we have been using vinegars in our cocktails since the day we started stocking them at Pok Pok.” Ricker also supplies several bars and restaurants throughout the country with his Som.
So where else can you find vinegary drinks in New York? Russ & Daughters offers an excellent beet shrub. But if you’re looking for something boozier, check out the balsamic-spiked New York Shrub cocktail or the raspberry shrub-infused tequila/sherry Conquistador cocktail at Peels. And that’s probably just the beginning of what’s to come: Prepare to pucker up.
This article from the Village Voice Archive was posted on February 7, 2012