Citrus is played out. You can only have so much fun with lemon and lime juice until you grow tired of the results. But when making drinks, you need that acidity to balance out the sweetness of liqueurs and spirits. So, you may ask, how do I find balance without using the bracing acidity of citrus fruit? Vinegar.
Vinegar on its own is a bit aggressive for most cocktails. The smell alone is enough to make someone cringe. But there are many techniques that can help to make vinegar more palatable without it losing that acidic bite to balance out your sweetener. My two favorite options are (1) soak fruit in the vinegar, or (2) rinse a glass and dump.
The rinsing technique is similar to what you might do when using Absinthe in a Sazerac. You want the essence, but you don’t want the flavors to overwhelm the drink. Given the small quantity that is being used in this technique, you’re going to get flavor and some acidity, but you’ll need to be careful with the sweet components in your drink as it probably won’t have the same effect as using a 1/2 or 3/4 oz of lime juice.
The other option, which is perhaps more interesting, is to soak the vinegar in fruit for a few days. Once the vinegar has taken on the fruit aroma and flavor, you can add a little bit of sugar and simmer it to fully combine the flavors. That will thicken it up slightly and balance it out while still leaving you the aggressive aspects of the vinegar that you were looking for. This also affords you the opportunity to add some additional aromatics such as bay leaf, rosemary, lemon verbena, lavender, etc. What you’re left with after you simmer and strain is a sweet and tart syrup that will add complexity and intrigue to your drink.
Here’s the basic recipe that I use for my Shrub syrup:
3 Cups Fresh Fruit – this could equate to one whole pineapple, a lb of strawberries, a few stalks of rhubarb, etc.
6 Cups of Vinegar - I usually use apple cider vinegar, but balsamic or champagne vinegar would be great too. No white vinegar
5 oz White Sugar
A Handful of Aromatics – pair something with your fruit ie: pineapple and sage, strawberries and basil, blueberries and lemon verbena
Combine your fruit and vinegar and let it sit covered for five days, shaking once daily. After five days, strain and put it in a saucepan with sugar. Bring to a simmer, add the aromatics and let it simmer for 8 – 10 minutes. Remove, cool, store refrigerated and start making cocktails.