Vinegar is an indispensable kitchen liquid. It adds brightness to salad dressings, tenderises meat in marinades and cuts through richness in fatty dishes to restore balance. It also makes a mean cocktail.
Though “drinking vinegar” sounds like the exact opposite of something you would want to do, there are ways to guzzle acetic acid that are downright refreshing. Once you begin to think of it like any other acid you would drink — hello, lemon juice — a whole world of sweet, sour, and slightly bracing options open up.
There are two ways you can incorporate the sour liquid into your life. You can make a funky, fruit-enhanced, syrupy shrub, or you can splash some of the bottled stuff directly into your drink. Let’s start by talking about those shrubs.
Syrupy, Sweet Shrubs
There are a a lot of recipes out there, but I like using a 2-2-2 ratio — which, if we use our maths, is really 1-1-1, but stay with me — of two cups fruit, two cups vinegar and two cups sugar. You can make them using both hot and cold preparations, but I’ve always found this lackadaisical approach from the New York Times to produce delicious results.
There is a ton of room for variation and you can change any of the three ingredients to suite your whims and desires. The only thing I would caution you against is the use of plain, white vinegar, which will overpower the fruit with its aggressive, somewhat brutish nature.
Apple cider vinegar plays well with most fruits and flavours, but champagne and sherry vinegar can also do wondrous things. Plain, white sugar, however, is a wonderful choice, as it lets the fruit shine and be its best self. Don’t rule out brown sugar, though; it can add a nice bit of depth and complexity.
If you’re having a hard time coming up with flavorful combinations, here are some ideas to get your juices flowing:
- Strawberries + white sugar + champagne vinegar
- Peaches + a 50/50 mixture of brown and white sugar + apple cider vinegar + a knob of grated ginger (bonus!)
- Pears + white sugar + red wine vinegar
- Blueberries + white sugar + sherry vinegar + a whole lemon’s worth of zest strips (Give ’em a little sugar scrub to express the oils before adding them to the mix.)
- Tomatoes (What? YES.) + white sugar + white wine vinegar + a handful of fresh dill and celery seeds
No matter what combination you’re using, start by chopping up your fruit and coating it with sugar, giving everything a good stir. You can even mash it a bit if you have some aggression you need to work out. Next, let osmosis do its thing, and leave your (covered) bowl of juicy goodness out on the counter for a day or two until you have a nice, soupy-looking mess of fruit.
Strain the juice away from the fruit — save that fruit for ice cream or freeze it into pretty cubes for future cocktails — and pour the sweet, sweet nectar into a sterilised jar. Add a 1/2 cup of vinegar at a time, tasting after each addition until you get the flavour profile you desire. (If you’re fruit of choice is naturally tart, you may not need the whole two cups.)
You can use your shrub straight-away, but I like letting everyone hang out in the fridge for a day, just to get acquainted. Shrubs are delightful when mixed into plain seltzer, but your day is will be even zippier if you invite gin (or rum, or vodka, or whiskey) to the party.
40mL of your favourite spirit, combined with 15mL of your shrub and then topped with soda water is the perfect invigorating blend of sweet, sour and strong, but you can get even fancier with some of the recipes from this blog.
Of course, you don’t have to make your own, there are some great pre-made shrubs out there, including the Somm series from Portland’s own Pok Pok. You can also add straight up vinegar to your beverages, which we will discuss next.
Photo: Claire Lower
You know those little bottles of fancy flavored vinegars you see at fancy olive oil stores in the mall? This is where those babies really come in handy. Our very own Sam Bithoney turned me on to honey ginger white balsamic, and I am happy to report that it is bonkers in a gin cocktail.
Apple cider vinegar is also a good choice, particularly when paired with whiskey and honey. A lot of people drink ACV for health reasons, but I don’t really go in for all that, because my health has never really been a big priority (sorry, mother). I am a fan of adding the pungent liquid to my beverages, but I do so because it makes my mouth happy.
As with any cocktail or mocktail, adding a strong, assertive ingredient requires a thoughtful approach. There are a lot of exciting possible combinations here, but my favourite catch-all vinegar cocktail recipe is a simple combination of 60mL spirit mixed with 30mL of sweetener and 15mL of flavorful vinegar. (Again, steer clear of plain white.)
Stir that all together, pour over some crushed ice and top with soda water for a very refreshing libation. Some possible combinations include:
- 60mL gin + 30mL thyme simple syrup + 15mL honey ginger balsamic (or any fruity white balsamic)
- 60mL bourbon + 30mL honey syrup (3 parts honey to 1 part water) + 15mL ounce apple cider vinegar
- 60mL rye + 30mL maple syrup + 15mL sherry vinegar
Also, I really enjoy a splash of funky ACV in a Bloody Mary, particularly if it’s a hair-of-the-dog kind of morning. A bit of slightly aggressive acid is sometimes just what I need to feel human again.