How to Make Drinking Vinegar

Have you heard of drinking vinegar? It's been around for centuries, but it's making a comeback. If you're on the hunt for a grown-up, non-alcoholic drink that's not too sweet, it might be a refreshingly delicious summer spritz.

To make drinking vinegar, you take any regular old vinegar, add fruit and/or herbs, let it sit for 1-30 days, then remove the fruit, and add sugar to create a fruit/herb flavored vinegar syrup. Add a tablespoon or two to a glass of sparking water and you have what's called a "shrub". You can also use it to preserve summer fruits - the fruit basically ends up pickled!

I was intrigued. I like almost any form of vinegar and I've never met a pickle I didn't like, so this seemed like it might be a promising drink. But would vinegar in a drink taste good? I had to find out.

I read many, many articles and recipes. Most of them recommended a basic formula: a 1:1:1 ratio of fruit, vinegar, and sugar, though some lessened or increased the amount of sugar to taste. Some articles called for heating the vinegar before pouring over the fruit (a.k.a. the hot method), while some were as simple as pouring the vinegar straight from the bottle over the fruit (a.k.a. the cold method). 

I decided I was going to start out making small batches of several different flavors using both methods and see what worked best. My combinations are as follows:

1. Blackberry + Thyme in Balsamic Vinegar - Cold Method

2. Strawberry + Basil in Champagne Vinegar - Cold Method

3. Wild Maine Blueberry + Lemon Verbena in Cider Vinegar - Hot Method

4. Cherry + Sage in Champagne Vinegar - Hot Method

5. Cardamom + Lavender in White Balsamic Vinegar - Hot Method

6. Ginger + Cilantro in Champagne Vinegar - Cold Method

I threw this one together after I'd already packed up my camera, so I don't have a prep photo. This flavor is based on a drink at one of our favorite local restaurants - a really strong, house made ginger beer with muddled cilantro. Sounds crazy, but it's soooo good. I wanted to see if I could produce a syrup that had all of the flavor, but less sugar.

I knew the acid content in the vinegar should have been enough to prevent any bacteria from growing in either the hot or cold method jars, but I decided to thoroughly wash and sterilize all of my jars before adding my mixture, regardless of which method I was using. Once the jars were set, I chopped up my fruit (or, in the case of the berries, slightly crushed) and prepped my herbs. I stuck by a recipe of one cup fruit, 1/4 cup herbs, one cup vinegar, 1/2 cup sugar - I really didn't want the syrup to be too sweet, so I cut the sugar quite a bit. (In the last two flavors, which didn't have fruit, I just used about a quarter cup of fresh herbs with one cup vinegar, and a half cup of sugar.) For the hot method flavors, I heated the vinegar to just below boiling and then poured into the prepped mason jars. I added the fruit, screwed on the caps and hoped for the best. For the cold method, it was the same steps, but instead of heating the vinegar, just measure it straight from the bottle. 

I let all of the jars rest for 72 hours. Then, using a layer of cheesecloth and a mesh sieve, I strained out the fruit, giving it a squeeze to get all of the good juices out, pouring the vinegar into a saucepan. I added the sugar and heated just enough to dissolve the sugar. Then I poured the syrup into sterilized mason jars and let cool in the fridge. Well, I put most of it in the fridge. I was so antsy to try some with the first one I finished (strawberry basil) that I added extra ice to a glass of sparking water and added about a tablespoon and a half. 

It is AMAZING. It doesn't taste like a mouthful of vinegar AT ALL. It's a tart, refreshing, complex taste experience. I smelled the strawberry as I went to take a sip, then tasted it, then a hint of the tart dryness of champagne vinegar, then an after note of the basil. It was cold, crisp, and wonderful. And I can't believe it's been missing from my life all these years.

After everything was said and done, the Strawberry/Basil/Champagne and the Ginger/Cilantro/Champagne are my favorite flavor combinations. The shrub is now my favorite summer drink of all time. I have a few flavors in mind that I can't wait to try before the summer is over - how good would the sweetness of perfectly ripe peaches go with a few raspberries? And maybe try honey, maple syrup, or molasses as a sweetener instead of sugar? The combinations are endless. And I'm willing to bet each will be delicious.

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