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Breezy summer drink concocted in Tel Aviv gets book of its own

‘Gazoz,’ by Benny Briga and Adeena Sussman, brings the secrets of this fruity, sparkling beverage from farm to table

Jessica Steinberg covers the Sabra scene from south to north and back to the center.

Gazoz master Benny Briga mixes one of his special sparkling water fruit drinks, as featured in 'Gazoz,' by Benny Briga and Adeena Sussman (Artisan Books). Copyright © 2021 (Photographs by Dan Perez)
Gazoz master Benny Briga mixes one of his special sparkling water fruit drinks, as featured in 'Gazoz,' by Benny Briga and Adeena Sussman (Artisan Books). Copyright © 2021 (Photographs by Dan Perez)

With his sparkling drinks made from seltzer, flowering stalks of herbs with chunks of fresh and fermented fruits, Benny Briga is Israel’s gazoz mixologist, bringing a contemporary twist to a retro Israeli beverage.

This so-called soda jerk from Tel Aviv is now introducing the world at large to his fruity drinks with “Gazoz,” (Artisan Books), a cookbook he co-authored with “Sababa” author Adeena Sussman, his friend and fellow sparkling drink fan.

In “Gazoz,” Briga and Sussman explain how to create syrups from fermented fruit, combine flavors and mix drinks based on the fruits and herbs available in any part of the world, with that splash of seltzer at the very end.

“‘Gazoz’ is the story of Tel Aviv,” said Briga, speaking at his Levinsky 41 café where each gazoz drink is fashioned by Briga or one of his staffers standing behind the white counter.

Gazoz, a drink of sparkling water mixed with a dollop of sugary syrup, was popular in early Tel Aviv times, presumably brought to these Mediterreanean shores by Turkish immigrants who were accustomed to drinking flavored fizzy water, named from the French “eau gazeuse” for sparkling water.

Briga never intended to serve the Ottoman-inspired syrupy seltzer at his tiny coffee bar in Tel Aviv’s Levinsky Market, known for its spice vendors and bourekas stands, but customers kept asking for gazoz.

“They’d come to me and say, ‘Why don’t you have gazoz, make me a gazoz,'” said Briga.

A gazoz made with sabras fruit, excerpted from ‘Gazoz’ by Benny Briga and Adeena Sussman (Artisan Books). Copyright © 2021 (Photographs by Dan Perez)

So he finally did, bringing fruit elixirs, jams and syrups from home and concocting his own version of the sparkling drink, made with preserved fruits, syrups and spices, mixed and served with stalks of flowering herbs.

The concoction was all farm to table, using foraged herbs and leaves from Tel Aviv parks and gardens served to customers seated at an open-bed pickup truck parked next to the curb.

At the height of Briga’s gazoz foraging, he was spending two to three hours a day riding around Tel Aviv on his black bicycle, searching for lemon geranium and sage, rosemary and mint, before planting his own rooftop garden.

More recently, Briga discovered and rented a dilapidated two-dunam lot behind a local synagogue where he now grows his herbs, along with limes, pomelos, passionfruit, pears and figs.

The glass shelves of Briga’s magical streetside café are lined with jars of every kind of homemade fruit syrup, combined to create original mocktails for customers, of which no two are ever exactly the same.

Each drink feels highly personal for the individual drinking it, dipping their nose to sip from the straw, and perhaps getting slightly tickled by the flowering herb stuck in the oversized clear plastic cup.

Excerpted from ‘Gazoz’ by Benny Briga and Adeena Sussman (Artisan Books). Copyright © 2021 (Photographs by Dan Perez)

“It’s a lot of intuition,” said Briga, who recently set up a workshop down the block from his café, where small bottles of fruit syrup in every shade line the wooden shelves, and crates of fresh apricots — in June — awaited fermentation.

Sweet Fermented Fruit in Syrup
(Excerpted from Gazoz by Benny Briga and Adeena Sussman (Artisan Books). Copyright © 2021)

Start the fermentation process with clean, unblemished fruit of the highest quality, preferably organic, seasonal, and local. The fruit is the star of the show and should be treated as such, especially because once you’re done drinking your gazoz, you will most likely lift the juicy slices of fruit out of the glass and eat them. The general rule for the fruit-to-sugar ratio is 70 percent sugar in relation to the weight of the fruit. Use that as your guide, unless otherwise indicated.

Makes 3 to 4 cups (about 1 kilo) fruit with syrup

1 heaping tablespoon (20 grams) baking soda
1¾ pounds (800 grams) whole thin-skinned fruit (see Notes)
Lemon juice (optional)
1¼ pounds (560 grams) sugar

A gazoz drink made with loquats, excerpted from ‘Gazoz’ by Benny Briga and Adeena Sussman (Artisan Books). Copyright © 2021 (Photographs by Dan Perez)

1. Wash the fruit: Combine the baking soda with 2 quarts (2 liter) cold water in a large bowl; add the fruit, rub it well with a soft cloth to clean it, then transfer it to a separate large bowl filled with ice water; let the fruit stand for 30 minutes to firm up.

2. Prepare the fruit: Slice the fruit into 1-inch wedges (remove the cores, stems, and pits); you should end up with about 1½ pounds (700 grams) cut fruit. If you’re using fruits that might turn brown (such as apples, pears, quince, etc.), drop them in a bowl filled with a mixture of 90 percent water to 10 percent lemon juice as you slice them.

3. Layer some of the fruit in a roughly 1-quart (1 liter) jar with a tight-fitting lid, then sprinkle with sugar. Continue to layer the fruit and sugar until the jar is filled, leaving at least 1½ inches of headroom at the top of the jar.

Gazoz by Benny Briga and Adeena Sussman

4. Ferment the fruit: Seal the jar tightly and let it stand on the counter until a syrup has formed and the fruit has softened and slumped slightly, 1 to 3 days, depending on the temperature of your kitchen; the sugar will dissolve more with each passing day. Open the jars daily to release any built-up pressure from fermentation, and also to check the progress of the fruit. This is the critical juncture; once you detect an aroma that is the essence of the fruit with a drop of sourness and acidity—sort of like cider—that is the time to decide if you want to let it ferment longer so it becomes more tart, or refrigerate the jar to slow fermentation. You can also dip a spoon in to taste the syrup, which will give you a good indication of what’s going on in the jar.

5. When you are happy with the flavor of the fruit, transfer the jar to the refrigerator. Use the fermented fruit and its syrup within 2 weeks.

Notes: To make 1¾ pounds (800 grams) whole fruit, you’ll need 4 or 5 apples, peaches, or pears, or 8 to 10 plums or apricots.
If using fresh berries, omit steps 1 and 2.

A gazoz drink made with halvah, excerpted from ‘Gazoz’ by Benny Briga and Adeena Sussman (Artisan Books). Copyright © 2021 (Photographs by Dan Perez)

Basic Gazoz
(Excerpted from Gazoz by Benny Briga and Adeena Sussman (Artisan Books). Copyright © 2021)

These are the basic proportions to follow when building a simple gazoz. Master this, and every glass will be your creative playground.
Makes 1 drink
3 or 4 large ice cubes (see Note)
2 slices or pieces of fermented fruit, plus 1 to 2 tablespoons syrup from the fruit or milkshake syrup
1 or 2 slices fresh fruit
1 or 2 pieces fermented whole spice or chilies, plus
1 teaspoon fermented spice syrup
12 ounces (355 milliliters) sparkling water
Leaves, greens, herbs, and flowers of your choice

Place the ice in a 12- to 16-ounce (360 to 475 milliliters) glass; spoon in the fermented fruit syrup. Add the fermented fruit, fresh fruit, fermented spice, and fermented spice syrup on top. Fill the glass with sparkling water, then garnish the top with the herbs, leaves, greens, and flowers of your choice. Insert straw and drink immediately.

Note: Though any ice cubes work well, cubes made with filtered mineral water or tap water that has been boiled and cooled will be clearer and more compact, and will melt more slowly. Try to avoid crushed ice, which will melt quickly and dilute your beverage.

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