It's tricky to pronounce, a little hard to find and doesn’t even contain any booze—so why are we recommending you pick up a bottle of verjus? Because despite those shortcomings. it is still killer in cocktails.
Made from the juice of unripe, unfermented wine grapes, verjus is like the most complex, high-acid grape juice you've ever had. Used often as an ingredient in French cooking, it works as a replacement for vinegar or—much more relevant to cocktails—citrus. So with verjus, you can get that acidity you're after without juicing tons of lemons or limes.
For our recipes, we used Kokomo Verjus from the Kokomo Winery in Sonoma, California. It's made from Zinfandel grapes grown in the Dry Creek Valley; its flavor is fresh and bright with strong acidity and just enough sweetness to round it out—exactly what we want in cocktails.
Easy: No-Lime Margarita
We invented this one during the Great Lime Crisis of 2014. Margaritas depend on limes, of course, but verjus contributes all the same acidity.
Instructions: In a mixing glass with ice, combine 2 ounces silver tequila, 1 ounce verjus, 1/2 ounce orange liqueur and 1/4 ounce agave syrup (equal parts agave cut with hot water). Stir until well-chilled. Strain into a rocks glass over ice. Garnish with a big twist of orange—twisting over the surface of the drink to spray its citrus oils all over.
Intermediate: Verjus Collins
The Tom Collins: a summer classic with lemon, simple syrup, gin and club soda. The verjus version? Just swap out the lemon. (This is great as a party drink—super-simple, and you don't have to squeeze a dozen lemons for it.)
Instructions: In a cocktail shaker with ice, combine 1 1/2 ounces gin (we love Beefeater 24 in this one), 1 ounce verjus and 3/4 ounce simple syrup. Shake that all up and strain into a tall glass with fresh ice. Top with 3 ounces of club soda.
Advanced: Verjus Manhattan
Let's go a little more sophisticated here. Verjus's grapey character means it has a natural affinity for anything wine-based, including vermouth. Think of this as a perfect summertime Manhattan: The verjus keeps things a little more refreshing, a little bit lighter, while still allowing the spice and character of the rye to come through.
Instructions: In a mixing glass with ice, combine 2 ounces Knob Creek Rye, 1/2 ounce verjus, 1/2 ounce Carpano Antica and 1/4 ounce simple syrup. Add a dash of Angostura bitters. Stir until well-chilled and strain into a cocktail glass. Garnish with a few brandied cherries.