Last weekend, TikTok was packed with videos of sunshine-y influencers pouring balsamic vinegar into glasses of fruit-flavored sparkling water until the concoction began to look vaguely inky. This, they said, was a "healthy Coke."
I tend to be skeptical about the way in which society at large — and a certain ilk of women's magazines, in particular — attempt to rebrand totally normal ingredients as substitutes for dishes deemed too decadent i.e. calling raw, crispy pieces of lettuce "lettuce chips" or claiming that an apple topped with almond butter and miniature chocolate chips is a "fruit cupcake."
The number of folks smiling with their glasses of sparkling balsamic vinegar, however, appeared to be an indication that the concoction was good, refreshing even. That is not the case.
Now, to be clear, I love cocktails with a vinegary twist. I actually have two shrubs — a peach-rosemary and a mixed berry blend — prepping in my kitchen right now. I can't wait to pour them over ice with a little bourbon or gin, respectively. Heck, I even like a splash of apple cider vinegar in my morning glass of ice water just to wake up the ol' taste buds.
But in order to get this "healthy Coke" to look remotely like the videos on TikTok, you can't just spike your sparkling water with a dash or two of vinegar. It took more like 6 tablespoons, which left me thinking, "I'm drinking vinegar, and wish that I was drinking a soda."
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That wasn't satisfying.
What is satisfying, however, is a cocktail or mocktail that takes the idea of a fresher, cooler Coke and executes it in a way that is actually drinkable. In this case, that's a gin spritz with a balsamic-cherry shrub.
A shrub is essentially a drinking vinegar, made by combining fruit, sweetener and vinegar to create a "syrup" that can be used to flavor cocktails. It has a really appealing sweet-sour, almost candy-like (you know, expensive fruit candy) flavor to it that's perfect when mixed with effervescent soda water and a refreshing gin.
Recipe: Gin Spritz with Balsamic-Cherry Shrub
For the shrub:
- 1 cup cherries
- 1/4 cup balsamic vinegar
- 3 tablespoons white sugar
For the cocktail:
- 4 ounces gin (See Cook's Notes)
- 2 ounces cherry shrub
- Splash soda water
- Cherries for garnish
- In a small saucepan, add the cherries, balsamic vinegar and white sugar — as well as enough water to cover the entire mixture. Bring the mixture to a boil, then reduce to a steady simmer for 10 minutes. Remove the mixture from the heat, place it in a sealable jar or container and allow it to sit in the refrigerator for at least 30 minutes.
- Strain the cherries from the mixture and reserve the resulting shrub in a sealable jar. It will keep for about 2 weeks.
- To make the cocktail itself, mix 4 ounces of gin and the cherry shrub over ice — use crushed pellet ice if you'd like more of a slushie effect — before splashing with soda water. Garnish with an extra cherry or two.
For a non-alcoholic version, use a brand like Seedlip.
Not a cocktail person? Check out these stories about beer:
- I thought I hated beer until I tried porters
- In defense of Natural Light, the unfairly maligned O.G. light brew
- In defense of Stiegl Radler, summer's most refreshing brew with a deep German history
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