A hint of vinegar adds zip to cocktails
FARGO – A spoonful of vinegar makes a drink a shrub.
Equally tart and sweet, the trendy sip is refreshing and unexpected.
"If you like cocktails, there will be a vinegar cocktail you'll like. Find a vinegar you like. It does all the work for you," says Monte's Downtown bartender Andrea Anderson. "You can build something amazing so easily."
The vinegar syrup used to make a shrub cocktail is also called a shrub. Fruit mingles with vinegar and sugar to create a flavorful concoction to add to soda water and liquor, Anderson says.
"I haven't made a cocktail just called a 'shrub' because there are so many meanings to it," Anderson says. "But I love adding vinegar to cocktails."
Anderson started experimenting with vinegar after tasting The Boiler Room's Blueberry Warhead cocktail created by bartender Elijah Larson. The sweet and sour sip combines blueberry balsamic vinegar with gin, basil simple syrup and lemon juice.
When Pinch & Pour opened downtown two years ago at 210 Broadway in Fargo, Anderson became a regular customer, using the slightly sweet balsamic vinegars for drinks at Monte's. The speciality shop sells 18 types of flavored balsamic vinegars, in addition to traditional balsamic. Grapefruit, Gravenstein apple, cranberry pear, fig and other balsamics take the work out of creating a shrub cocktail.
Anderson uses the vinegars like a shrub syrup, adding them to soda water, liquor and sometimes a splash of simple syrup and fresh fruit. Monte's Honey Ginger Mai Tai combines honey ginger balsamic with coconut rum, dark rum and soda water. The Lemon Basil Cooler has a hint of white sicilian balsamic vinegar, and Anderson's working on the fall cocktail menu, which will feature multiple drinks with vinegars.
"They're so easy to work with," she says. "I like to keep things simple and super flavorful and everybody-friendly, something that my mom would drink and also something that someone who always drinks beer would like."
Drinks with a hint of vinegar aren't new. Vinegar-flavored drinks called switchels or shrubs were popular in America in the 18th and 19th centuries as a way to preserve fruit and make unsafe water drinkable since the vinegar kills bacteria, according to The Ultimate History Project, an online collection of articles by professors and historians.
The word "shrub" is derived from the Arabic sharbah, which means "a drink."
If you're making a shrub for the first time, Anderson recommends starting with a quarter ounce of a flavored balsamic vinegar per cocktail. Add to taste — the drink shouldn't be potent-smelling.
"It can come across way too harsh and wipe out other flavors if you use too much," Anderson says.
The vinegars from Pinch & Pour are mild and slightly sweet, common characteristics of balsamic vinegars, says Pinch & Pour's Emily Puckett.
Unlike other vinegars, balsamic is aged like wine in wooden barrels and created from a reduction of grapes, usually the white Trebbiano grape, she says. Regular vinegars are the result of fermentation.
Although the process in Modena, Italy, is secretive, Pinch & Pour's Lucas Swanson says the fruit and other flavors are crushed with the grapes or added after the balsamic is aged. Balsamic vinegar is naturally sweet because of its aging process, he says.
"People can't believe it's a vinegar," he says. "We have a lot of people come in here who've never had a balsamic vinegar before."
Swanson uses the vinegars to make shrub cocktails or soda-like drinks. The premium white balsamic can be used to make shrub syrup from scratch, too.
"Shrubs are the new Moscow mule and there's no special cup," Swanson says, referring to the popular ginger beer, lime and vodka drink that's served in a copper mug. "Just a special vinegar."
Basic shrub syrup
Makes about 2 cups
1 cup sliced berries or other fruit (I used blackberries.)
1¼ cup granulated sugar (Adjust to taste. If the fruit is tart, increase sugar)
¾ cup red wine vinegar
Combine fruit, sugar and vinegar in a bowl.
Using a potato masher or a wooden spoon, mash the fruit so it releases juices. Stir until the sugar has mostly dissolved, and refrigerate overnight.
The next day, heat the mixture gently over medium-low heat. Do not bring to a simmer — you want to heat the mixture until the sugar dissolves.
Strain the shrub through a fine mesh strainer. If desired, strain again through a coffee filter. Refrigerate.
Use to flavor sparkling water, make cocktails, or top ice cream and shave ice.
Adapted from www.thejoykitchen.com
Sparkling White Balsamic Shrub
Makes one cocktail
2 ounces chilled vodka (or gin)
½ ounce Gravenstein Apple, Cranberry-Pear or Grapefruit White Balsamic vinegar, chilled
3 ounces club soda
Fill a tall glass with ice. Add vodka, balsamic vinegar and soda. Stir gently to mix and drink immediately.
Recipe courtesy of Pinch & Pour