Daniel Liberson wades ankle-deep through a pathway of clover looking for edible flora—the weirder, the better. The 220-acre nature reserve around him in Delaplane, Va., looks like a Grant Wood landscape with perfect blue skies, rolling hills cut by a stream, grasses that bend like waves in the wind, and butterflies fluttering.
In a wooded area, Liberson kneels down to pick some white violets, then he spots some ground ivy and hands me a few of their little green leaves to taste.
“It’s going to be pretty potent, I’m warning you about that now,” he says. “It’s got this basil kind of minty flavor to it, very herbaceous. It gets very bitter very quickly, so you’re going to want to eventually spit it out. But that first burst of flavor…”
Liberson passes by the giant leaves of mayapple plants—“they will super kill you”—and heads over to a spicebush, which really looks more like a tree. He uses his thumb to scrape back the skin of the branch, revealing the aromatic green flesh underneath.
“For me, it always smells like a combination of lemons and cayenne and allspice and birch,” he says. Later in summer, he’ll pick the spicebush’s little bright red berries, which also have a woody-lemon flavor.
Liberson will use all of these lesser known ingredients to produce his Lindera Farms Vinegar in a red barn nearby. The vinegars will then make their way into some of the very best restaurants and bars in the country: Minibar and Zaytinya in D.C., Per Se and Gramercy Tavern in New York, and McCrady’s and Husk in Charleston, S.C.
While vinegar production is as ancient as wine, Liberson is aiming to take it in a direction that no one has before. For the most part, other producers in the western world are making grape- or apple-based vinegars. Flavored vinegars often begin with a finished vinegar that’s then infused and sweetened. Liberson doesn’t do infusions. Rather, he ferments fruits, flowers, and other plants into alcohols, and then converts that into vinegar.
Every ingredient Liberson uses comes from Virginia. If he doesn’t forage it himself on the Bolling Branch nature reserve his parents restored from cattle farmland beginning in 2006, he gets it from small organic farms nearby. Since launching his business full-time in September, the 28-year-old is quickly building a name for himself in culinary circles for esoteric and complex vinegar flavors like mulberry, elderflower, wild chamomile, milkweed, black locust, bee balm, and matsutake mushroom. As far as Liberson is aware, many of these vinegar flavors have never been bottled and sold—or even made—before. Read more Meet the Guy Who’s Bringing a Vinegar Revolution to D.C.