I like the ritual of an evening cocktail hour—a drink paired with something salty signals the end of the work day, that it’s time to relax. It’s lovely to have something to sip while making dinner or chatting about the day. The only problem is that I am not much of a drinker. It’s not that I’m opposed; my body just doesn’t like alcohol. More than one glass of wine makes me uncomfortably hot and flushed. If I venture past a single cocktail, I end up feeling like I’ve been bludgeoned.
In my twenties, I fought against my biological desire to live a dry life, but now firmly settled into my thirties, I’ve come to accept my genetic incompatibility with booze. Though I’ve not been able to take part in much of the re-emerging cocktail scene, I’m grateful for it nonetheless. That’s because it had led to a renewed interest in herbal syrups, fruit and vinegar shrubs, and other tinctures that go beautifully in a glass of fizzy water.
When fresh herbs are abundant, I’ll infuse them into small batches of simple syrup. Rosemary lemon syrup is fresh on hot days and can do double duty in homemade vinaigrette. During peach season, I’ll peel and mash two or three ripe ones into a jar with sugar, apple cider vinegar, and grated ginger, for a bracing concoction that hits both the sweet and savory taste buds.
When fresh apple cider is in season, I regularly cook down a half gallon of juice into two concentrated cups of syrup. Flavored with a little mint and honey, it works with either sparkling water during that post-work, pre-dinner time or in a mug of hot water later in the evening. The best part of these shrubs and syrups is that once you learn the ratios and get a hang of the technique, you can use whatever fruit, herbs, or vinegars you have on hand.
Peach Ginger Shrub
- 2 peaches, peeled and chopped
- ¾ cup granulated sugar
- 1 cup apple cider vinegar
- 1 tablespoon grated ginger
Combine peaches and sugar in a quart jar. Using a wooden spoon or muddler, mash the peaches and sugar together. Add vinegar and ginger and stir to combine. Put a lid on the jar and refrigerate for 24 hours.
When a day has passed, strain the solids from the liquid. Discard solids. Store the finished shrub in the refrigerator.
Makes: 1 1/4 cups
Apple Mint Syrup
- ½ gallon unfiltered apple cider or juice
- ¼ cup mint leaves
- ⅓ cup honey
Combine apple cider and mint leaves in a large, heavy-bottomed pot. Place over medium-high heat and cook at a gentle boil for 45 minutes, until the cider has reduced greatly. Add honey and stir to combine.
Continue to cook until you have just two cups of concentrated cider left. Remove mint leaves. Pour syrup into a jar with a tight-fitting lid and keep stored in the refrigerator.
Note: Do not cook the apple cider down past two cups. If you do, it will turn into jelly. While that’s delicious and very good spread on toast, it doesn’t work as well in sparkling water as a liquid syrup does.
Makes: 2 cups
Rosemary Lemon Syrup
- 1 cup sugar
- 1 cup water
- 3 healthy sprigs rosemary
- 1 tablespoon lemon juice
Combine sugar and water in a small saucepan over medium heat. Gently crush the rosemary leaves, to help them infuse the syrup. Add rosemary to the pot and let simmer for 10 minutes, so that it thickens slightly and gets intensely rosemary-flavored. At the end of cooking, add the lemon juice.
Let syrup cool completely with the rosemary sprigs in the pot. When it’s cool, pour it into a small jar or bottle. If you’d like it to be more intensely rosemary-flavored, leave a sprig in the jar to continue the infusion.
Makes: 1 1/4 cups