Back in January, writer Camper English declared that vinegar was the new egg white—the latest cocktail ingredient. English even instituted a VinegarWatch. And voilà, the trend writers responded: Metromix Los Angeles has an article anointing vinegar “the toast of the town, the mixer du jour for the latest trend in cocktails.”
Vinegar may not sound like the most appealing thing to throw in a drink, but Gabriel at Cocktailnerd says, “it’s both sweet and tart, where we normally use sugar and citrus to similar, and frequent, effect.” Gabriel does some testing of the shrub school of vinegar cocktail, in which white wine vinegar and sugar, mixed with fruit, are used to create a simple syrup. Robert Heugel, formerly of Explore the Pour and now of Drink Dogma, builds on Gabriel’s post and explains the appeal of balsamic vinegar in cocktails. Balsamic can be reduced to create a gastrique, a thick syrup that can be made sweet or savory. He writes:
The potential for using vinegar in cocktails is endless. In some circumstances, a gastrique might be best, while in others, a shrub syrup might work best. I recommend thinking of these concepts as two basic extremes and mixing the two together to meet somewhere in the middle, using a juice, wine, or even sake based syrup to make a wildly different shrub syrup, or finding a completely different route. Either way, if you experiment with vinegar even a little bit, you will be hooked and start to explore all of the possibilities.
If you don’t feel like making the syrup yourself, you might be able to find drinking vinegars at an Asian market. These nonalcoholic vinegar fruit drinks have been wildly popular in Japan, where they are usually mixed with water or milk. Chowhounds have suggestions on where to find drinking vinegars and what to mix them with. Tait Farm Foods also sells bottled fruit shrubs.