Drinking vinegars — also called shrub syrups — have been around for centuries. In the ancient Middle East shrub syrups (called sharaab) were created as a means to purify water through the addition of vinegar. Earl European sailors brought mixtures of alcohol and citrus fruit on board ship to help prevent scurvy, but it wasn’t until settlers began to colonize America that the shrub syrups we are familiar with today became commonplace. These combinations of fruit, vinegar, sweeteners and herbs are easy and fun to mix at home, and can be added to carbonated or still water, teas, and cocktails.
Vinegar is the base for all shrub syrups. Any vinegar containing at least five percent acetic acid may be used: try white, champagne, red wine, white wine, apple cider or balsamic vinegars. You can also experiment with coconut, cane, date, raisin, or rice vinegar.
Any fruit can be used to make shrub syrups — but you’ll want to be sure it pairs well with the vinegar you select. Fresh strawberries and balsamic vinegar are a popular match, for example, or blueberries and apple cider vinegar. Wine vinegars go well with stone fruit or apples, and don’t forget to try citrus fruits. It is not necessary to stick to just one type of fruit — be bold with your creations. You can also make more savory shrub syrups from tomatoes or celery.
A variety of sweeteners can be used to balance out the acidity of the shrub syrup. You don’t have to use granulated white sugar if you don’t want to — brown or raw or even coconut sugar are options, as are alternatives such as honey, stevia, or maple, birch, or agave syrup.
An aromatic herb or spice is often added to shrub syrups. Basil, rosemary, lemon verbena, and black or pink peppercorns are popular selections to put that special finish on your drinking vinegar.
Here is a basic cold process method for making a shrub syrup:
3 cups fresh fruit, peeled and cored (if necessary), washed and chopped
¼ cup fresh herbs, washed, chopped
1 cup sweetener (may be adjusted to taste)
1 cup vinegar
Wash two 1-pint mason jars, lids and rings in hot, soapy water, and thoroughly rinse. Sterilize the jars by placing them on a rack inside a large pot or boiling water canner. Cover the jars with water and boil for 10 minutes. Add the lids at the last minute.
In the meantime, wash and prepare the fruit and herbs. Place them together in a bowl and bruise them using a mortar or the back of a wooden spoon.
Remove the jars from the water and add the fruit and herbs. Measure out the sweetener into the jars and place the lids on the jars to seal tightly. Gently shake the contents to thoroughly combine, then allow the jars to sit at room temperature for 24 to 48 hours.
The final step is to remove the lids from the jars and add the vinegar to the fruit, herbs, and sugar. Gently mix the ingredients, then label them and place them in the fridge. Allow the jars to sit undisturbed for two to four weeks for best flavor. Before using, remove the jars from the fridge and strain the fruit and herbs through damp cheesecloth, reserving the shrub syrup. You can store your shrub syrup in a tightly sealed jar in the refrigerator for up to six months.
Another drinking vinegar with a rich history is switchel, sometimes known as “haymaker’s punch.” Thought to have originated in the West Indies, this refreshing, tangy concoction of apple cider vinegar, water, molasses or honey, and ginger became popular with American farmers after the 17th century. The combination of ingredients in switchel are easily digestible, full of electrolytes, and work to prevent dehydration.
The health benefits of apple cider vinegar have long been touted, most famously by American physician D.C. Jarvis in the 1950’s. His creation of honegar, a version of switchel using honey in place of molasses, was the cornerstone of his prescriptions for treatment of ailments such as arthritis, colds, infections, and varicose veins. More recently, consumption of apple cider vinegar has been popularized to combat insulin resistance, allergies, and for the promotion of weight loss. Research into the actual effectiveness of these treatments is ongoing, but whether or not you adhere to the health claims of drinking vinegar, there is no denying the tasty appeal of these summery thirst-quenchers!