The term "drinking vinegar” has us a bit sour: it’s not strictly a vinegar, and really, it’s not for idle drinking. The more common term for a drinking vinegar is a "shrub" -- but that also has issues as "shrub" has three fairly different definitions: a type of fruit liqueur, a cocktail made with vinegar or... a drinking vinegar. I think you can see where the confusion stems from. To wage war on confusion we're going to define "a drinking vinegar" as a sweet vinegar-based syrup, and we'll do our best to remember that when a recipe calls for a shrub, this is probably what is being asked for.
So why drinking vinegars? Why sour the sweetness? Well if you've ever made any cocktails with any amount of fresh citrus juice in it, you already know the answer. The acidity of the citrus cuts through the cloying sweetness of liqueurs and tempers the edge of spirits. For many cocktails, the tart acid is that bridging element tying all the ingredients together, creating a cohesive taste. Can you imagine a lime-less margarita? A lemon-less Aviation?
How are drinking vinegars similar to fresh citrus juice? Using drinking vinegars changes out the citric acid common to cocktails for acetic acid. You get to keep a similar level of sourness, but you're not committed to the taste of the citrus fruit.
So are drinking vinegars just a sour alternative? Yes and no. And so much more. The beauty of these tangy syrups is that they are a package of sweet and sour together, and so a little goes quite a long way. Simple, tasty cocktails can be made by combining just 1/4 to 1/2 oz of a drinking vinegar with a favorite spirit. Alternatively they can be used to have fun with any recipe that does call for fresh citrus - simply replace all of it, or some of it with a shrub. But we don't even need to use alcohol to enjoy drinking vinegars: simply add a few spoonfuls to some club soda for a refreshing, effervescent treat.
Recently we fell in love with these tasty Som Drinking Vinegars from Pok Pok. Known for their commitment to recreating authentic Thai street-food flavors, this originally-Portland-based restaurant captured the attention of cocktail lovers with their house made drinking vinegars. Patrons loved them so much that it was only a short time before Pok Pok started bottling them for home use.
We've been trying out these four flavors: Ginger, Pineapple, Strawberry-Basil and Mint-Lime-Cucumber and so far they are quite the hit. Strawberry-Basil is just a tailor made fit for your favorite gin, while Pineapple perfectly marries with a dark rum. Mint-Lime-Cucumber is as tequila or mezcal ready as any ingredient can be. It's been hard to find a wrong way to use them.
But don't take our word for it, try them out and let us know! Here are a few suggestions from Pok Pok to get you started:
1 oz. Ginger Som
1 1/2 oz. Gin
1 oz. Fresh Grapefruit Juice
Combine ingredients into a shaker, add ice. Shake, strain and serve.
Zig Zag Wanderer
1 1/2 oz. Spiced Rum
1 oz. Pineapple Som
2 oz. Fresh Orange Juice
1 oz. Coconut Milk
Combine all ingredients into a shaker, add ice. Shake and strain into a Collins glass, garnish with lime wedge.