Again, a disclaimer: I am in no way a mixologist, I consider most liquors to taste like a ghastly burning liquid version of poop and one of my preferred drinks (read: lesser of the evils) is a long island iced tea, which should give you some idea of my discerning palate and refined taste. (See also: frozen margaritas, amaretto sours, Pimm’s cups, and G&Ts when I’m trying to be socially respectable.)
But shrubs are new territory. Earlier this summer, I had a really delicious non-alcoholic shrub at a restaurant and spent weeks thinking about it before realizing that my first introduction to shrubs had really come years ago, when my aunt had proffered something involving alcohol and something out of a mason jar, which I had politely declined.
Jokes on me, because shrubs (unattractively also known as “drinking vinegars”) are basically a fruit-infused acidic substance that can be added to any drink, alcoholic or not, to amp up flavor–let me repeat: fruit and acid. And sugar. Three of my favorite things, especially when it comes to drinks (dranks).
Serendipitously, the lovely Sherrie and Renee decided to host a virtual #drinkthesummer party right around the time a handful of strawberries were going soft and squishy on me, so my first attempt at a shrub demanded the always-alluring combination of strawberries and balsamic vinegar. When thinned with a good splash of sparkling water, a squeeze of lime (plus a half-hearted attempt at muddling basil…) and a pour of gin, I thought these turned out quite nicely–fizzy, fruity, sweet, and a little sour, just how I like. (Though next time, I’d go lighter on the sugar since balsamic vinegar is already fairly sweet, in order to help bring out the acid.)
While some recipes suggest cooking the fruit, sugar and vinegar together, Serious Eats advocates a cold-processed shrub for better flavor, so that’s what I did. It’s a super easy process, even for a drink noob like me, so I highly recommend trying this, if tangy/sour/acidic drinks are your thing! Making a shrub is the perfect way to elevate your drink game, use up overripe or slightly imperfect fruit, impress your friends, and drink delicious drinks. Just make sure you leave a couple of days from your start time to desired drinking time–a.k.a a Wednesday might be the perfect time to start 😉
- For the shrub:
- 1/2 cup strawberries
- 1/4 cup sugar (reduce to 2 tablespoons for a less sweet shrub)
- 1/2 cup balsamic vinegar (you can also try a mix of balsamic and a lighter vinegar, like apple cider or champagne)
- For the cocktails:
- Sparkling water
- Fresh basil (optional)
Combine the strawberries and sugar; mash with a fork until well-combined. Cover and refrigerate overnight. Once a syrupy liquid has accumulated, strain through a fine mesh sieve (reserve the solids to use over yogurt or on toast). Stir the vinegar into the syrup and refrigerate for several hours (ideally a day or more), stirring occasionally to help dissolve the sugar.
To assemble the shrub cocktails, muddle a few leaves of basil in the bottom of a glass, if using. Remove basil leaves and add 1-2 oz gin, 1 oz shrub syrup, 1/2 cup sparkling water, a squeeze of lime and stir. Adjust components to taste.