North Bend, Ohio
Greater Cincinnati’s newest distillery deals in highly potent liquids. But instead of whiskey or wine, it’s brewing up every imaginable take on what has for centuries been known as an essential food-flavor building block: vinegar.
Four years ago, farmer Richard Stewart teamed up with chef Justin Dean to create a line of malt vinegars using spent grains from MadTree Brewing. (MadHouse Vinegar Co. is a nod to that relationship as well as its home at Carriage House Farm in North Bend, OH.) Their goal was twofold: to reduce harmful brewery waste while rekindling a passion for quality vinegar that would reflect the flavors and culture unique to the Ohio River Valley.
“Vinegar has a long, hyper-local history,” Stewart explains. “Communities in Italy and Germany would use whatever local materials they had as a starting base, so the resulting vinegar told a complex story. But its popularity eventually fizzled out, leaving the mostly two-dimensional grocery-store varieties we’re familiar with today.”
Stewart and Dean set about changing that narrative amid a widespread re-emergence. High-quality cooking vinegars, as well as classic drinking shrubs and switchels, began popping up on craft cocktail menus and in grocery stores across the country—partly in response to the skyrocketing cost of limes in recent years, Stewart says, as chefs began looking to vinegar for alternative ways to add tartness and sourness to their recipes.
MadHouse’s two-stage fermentation process starts with malt, cider, fruit, corn, and even coffee bases. From there, things get interesting, with results ranging from the curiously sweet, corn-based Silver Queen to the tartly hoppy Dry Cider, a result of a partnership with Rhinegeist Brewery in Over-the-Rhine.
In addition to breweries, MadHouse works with Deeper Roots Coffee and is exploring a partnership with a local candy maker to supplement its growing list of playfully palate-confusing concoctions.
“Anyone who enjoys cooking at home should have several varieties of vinegar,” says Stewart. “Without the sour component it adds, even basic recipes lack complexity.”
Photo by Tine Hofmann – www.tmphotography.net