It’s high, languid summer, when the crush of sultry afternoons is soothed with iced tea, lemonade, Sancerre, and vinegar. Vinegar? Yes, most definitely. Not the culinary kind—the drinking kind, made from fresh fruit macerated in vinegar, then boiled. It’s best savored in cocktails or mixed with sparkling water or soda, and better yet, it’s easily made at home from summer’s bounty.
Drinking-vinegars may be a trend, but they’re nothing new. The Chinese and Japanese concocted them thousands of years ago, as did those crafty Romans, who called them posca. The French followed with gastriques, which the English and their colonial brethren termed “shrubs” (in an antiquarian nod to global fusion, shrub derives from the Arabic “sharab,” meaning “to drink”).
And drink you should. A well-made shrub is tart and intensely fruity, and, mixed with soda, can accompany food and cleanse the palate. American bartenders often use it as a surrogate for citrus in cocktails, though they lag far behind the Japanese, whose burgeoning vinegar boutiques employ actual vinegar sommeliers. Considering the innumerable variety of shrubs, that’s not so far-fetched. Choose a fruit or spice, and chances are it has macerated its way into a glass. Tomatoes, berries, plums, figs, grapefruit, melons, ginger—all of them are ideal shrubbers, so to speak. At 42 (1 Renaissance Sq, White Plains 914-761-4242), house-made blood-orange gastrique flavors a ginger martini, and strawberry gastrique enlivens a Brazilian batida. Zuppa (59 Main St, Yonkers 914-376-6500) jolts its Piccadilly Circus cocktail with vincotto, a red-wine-based vinegar similar to balsamic, infused with citrus zest. Honey vinegar, though not technically a shrub, is paired with both soda water and sparkling wine at Blue Hill at Stone Barns (630 Bedford Rd, Pocantico Hills 914-366-9600).
If you’d like a shrub supply at home, Pennsylvania’s Tait Farm (800-787-2716) offers myriad varieties made from its organic fruits. Or troll the greenmarket or your own backyard garden, pull out a pot, add some good vinegar, and get macerating. It’s this easy: in a large pot (not cast-iron), cover fruit with cider or wine vinegar and soak for 24 hours. Bring to a simmer, then strain, discarding solids. Add one pint sugar for each pint of juice, boil 20 minutes, cool, and bottle, closing tightly. Your shrub will be good for about a year, and so will your health: drinking vinegar lowers blood sugar, and its acetic acid curbs appetites. So take out the glasses and get those summer drinks going—unless you’ve got a vinegar sommelier to do it for you.