Posca –  The New Shrub?

A new cocktail ingredient might be about to sweep the competition and cocktail menu scene, for once BarLifeUK is ahead of the game so we have a look at Posca.

Over the last few years we have seen many trends come along, from Shrubs four or five years ago to salt and olive oil (especially if you were Jamie Jones) and over the last couple of years vinegar has been making a lot of waves. Both Matt Fairhurst and Iain Griffiths’ Bacardi Legacy drinks contained vinegar and were superb.

That's some good posca Getafix
That’s some good posca Getafix

Last week at the World Class semi-finals an ingredient we hadn’t seen before cropped up in Aidan Bowie’s winning drink. We were intrigued and started to look into it, everything we have read so far suggests it has all the makings of an ingredient you will be seeing a lot more of in 2016 so with the help of some books, the internet and Aidan we are going to try and give you a bit of a low down.

Old Is The New New

To say that posca is a new drink would be nothing less than a blatant lie. In actual fact it is a lot older than the shrub, and actually dates back to before Jesus (and other fictional characters).

It came to the fore in ancient Roman times and was very popular with the lower classes and soldiers. It is even featured in the bible as being offered to Jesus on the cross by the Roman soldiers, he drank it off a sponge in case you were interested.

Posca, derived from either the Latin potor (to drink) or from the Greek epoxos (very sharp), is a mixture of vinegar/soured wine, water and herbs (and if they could afford it sugar or honey). Vinegar as we know is predominately made from wine (although the list of things it can be made from range from the expected – beer, sherry and cider to the bizarre – coconut, dates and kiwi fruit) in actual fact in it’s essence it is gone off wine.

Back in Roman and Greek times wine didn’t keep as well and often spoilt. Whilst the Greeks used posca as a medicinal tonic the Romans turned it into a daily drink. Rather than throwing away crappy wine they quickly discovered that mixing it with water and spices had many benefits besides making the off wine more palatable.

Michael Dietsch in his excellent book Shrubs: An Old Fashioned Drink For Modern Times explains:

Water of the time was often undrinkable, spoiled by dangerous bacteria. Spiking water with soured wine was a way to sterilise the water while reusing wine that would otherwise be wasted. Posca also provided calories and hydration, and thanks to the vitamin C in the vinegar, it was an antiscorbutic, meaning it prevented scurvy.

With this information to hand it was no surprise that Roman soldiers quickly adopted the drink to their daily rations, getting around a quarter of a US gallon a day (although the officers and nobel folk stuck with good wine, can’t really blame them for that). Just to make posca even cooler Samurai’s also drunk their own version.

They didn't always drink posca...
They didn’t always drink posca…

What Are The Posca-bilities?

So it has the history credentials for it to be cool and it has booze/vinegar in it. It certainly sounds like something that could take off but the question is how? And what are it’s benefits? For that insight we had a chat with Dandelyan’s Aidan.

We firstly were keen to find out where the discovery of posca came from, ’The posca was actually discovered by one of my colleagues Jackie Lai, who came across it when we were looking for inspiration for our new cocktail menu. Every bar has issues with oxidised wine or wine that has lost it freshness and can’t be resold. We were looking into a lot of items on the bar that were wasted and ways of utilising them in other areas.’

It is one thing to find something written down in the history books and yet another to re-create it, however with the help of some modern equipment they soon had a process in place, ‘We simply add our wine to the Thermomix and leave it on a gentle spin on heat for an hour. This brings the wine to a point where it’s completely spent. We will also add a little bit of raw cider vinegar to the mix. After an hour the mix is ready. We add sugar and some spices to achieve what we want from the wine but I guess you can use any sweetener and spice.’

As well as his World Class drink a posca drink also made it onto the new Dandelyan menu ‘The drink on the menu is a reverse Manhattan type style so we will also fortify the mix with bourbon so it keeps for longer. Our version isn’t as acidic as a shrub would be but I guess you can up the vinegar level.’

Whilst we know that not all of you will be lucky enough to have a Thermomix at work that is no excuse not to give it a go. We have been reliably informed that only 5% of Roman soldiers had Thermomix’s (the heathens) so if they could manage it we reckon you can. It will just take a little more patience and stirring.

As Aidan point’s out ‘It’s a really cool way to reuse wines that would normally get thrown away’ so you really aren’t wasting anything if the early efforts don’t go according to plan. It really is open to interpretation and provides untold possibilities.

We think that posca could be a really exciting addition to the UK and world cocktail scene as it gives an interesting alternative to the fruit based shrubs that are still popular and adds another dimension to recipes with very little cost implications.

Big thanks to Aidan for bringing this drink to our attention and for his help in this article, as well as to Jackie for tracking it down in the first place. We will be heading down to Dandelyan in a couple weeks to chat with Jackie and have a closer look at how their posca is made.

In the meantime if any of you are already experimenting with posca in your bars we’d love to hear from you and find out what you are up to. Feel free to email simon@barlifeuk.com and we may be able to include you in the follow up article.

In the meantime here is Aidan’s World Class drink:

Aidan Bowie, Dandelyan

  • 1 part Don Julio Blanco Tequila
  • 2 parts blood orange & artichoke posca
  • Top with sparkling water

The drink is served as a sharing punch over ice with watercress & blood orange