Considering the amount of food and drink that relies on fermentation for its flavour, the process deserves a lot more credit than it gets.
Edward Quatermass, bartender at Brisbane’s Maker bar, is an expert on fermentation and alcohol, but you don’t need his enthusiasm to see just how integral the microbial process is to the way we eat.
“A lot of extremely common items wouldn’t be possible without fermentation,” he says, listing bread, salami, cheese and chocolate, for starters. “Cocoa beans are initially gooey and unpalatable, and require a long process of fermentation, followed by roasting and drying, to create the flavour we know and love.”
And, of course, alcohol is a product of fermentation, so it follows that many drinks pair well with fermented foods.
“People think fermentation is a new thing, but it’s been part of human life for thousands of years. Cheesemaking is reliant on many different microbial processes and interactions, and you match cheese with wine. The same process follows for cocktails and spirits.”
As our palates have evolved, we’ve begun to experiment with the fermentation process to encourage diverse flavours in food. Temperature, acidity levels and other factors all determine which bacteria will dominate the fermentation process, and alter flavour.
Kombucha, a fermented tea, works well mixed with gin or tequila, because it heightens the flavours in both. A shrub is flavoured syrup made from the fermentation of vinegar, sugar and fruit, and is often mixed into sweet, rum-based cocktails.
Pickling is another popular form of fermentation. Immersing vegetables in vinegar or brine, and mixing it with spices such as star anise, cloves, mustard seed, cinnamon, turmeric or ginger, adds flavour and kills harmful bacteria. It also preserves and promotes beneficial vitamins in the vegetables. Pickled veggies are often a great accompaniment to a simple cocktail – think about brined olives in a Martini.
“Start experimenting with fermenting something simple and build on that,” says Quatermass. “Pickle vegetables in mason jars. Experiment with flavours. It can take a few trials to get it right, but the jars look great lined up in a kitchen.”
Quatermass shares his recipe for pickled chilli below. He pairs it with a whisky-based cocktail, as it holds up well against the acidity and spice of the pickle.
1kg small mild green chillis
500ml chardonnay vinegar
Small handful peppercorns
Small handful coriander seeds
4 bay leaves
Place all ingredients except for chillis in a saucepan, and heat to dissolve the sugar and salt. Pack chillis into sealable, air-tight jars and pour the warm pickling solution over the top. Ensure the chillis are completely submerged. Seal and leave to pickle for two weeks before using.
Honey Bees & Glutamate to match:
Makes one. Approximately 1.2 standard drinks.
30ml Johnnie Walker Gold Label Reserve Scotch Whisky
30ml Maidenii Sweet
10ml BK Springs Hill 'MSG' Blend (or any dry tannic wine)
Dash Saline Solution*
Stir all ingredients over ice and strain into a cocktail glass.
*To make the saline solution, boil 1 cup of water with half a teaspoon of salt for 15 minutes, covered. Leave to cool and use as required.
This article is presented in partnership with World Class.