Yes to Shrub
A shrub, or drinking vinegar is a non-alcoholic syrup made from a combination of concentrated fruits, aromatics, sugar, and vinegar. I’d heard of drinking vinegar prior to going booze-free, but I hadn’t understood their importance in bringing NA drinks to life. Thanks to vinegar and time, a shrub can be stored for long periods without refrigeration, which makes it a great alternative to a fruit-based simple syrup that can mold if made at-home and kept in your home-bar. Some people shy away from shrub due to the vinegar, but the combination of sweet fruit balances the vinegar for a citrus-like finish.
So why is shrub important in the NA space? First, you can make or buy a shrub, mix it with soda water and have a delicious NA drink. Second, many of the typical additions to a cocktail that add sweet, savory or sharp notes can be replaced by shrub. Acid is one of the most important elements in creating a balanced drink, but traditionally acid in cocktails comes in the form of citrus or vermouth. As vermouth is out for us dry drinkers, a shrub adds structure to a drink in a more complex way versus citrus.
Making shrub takes some love and time, but you can make a shrub on the stove top if you need it the next day. The benefits of shrub go beyond the palette, as drinking vinegar have been shown to reduce the rise in blood sugar after eating carbs and it has a prebiotic effect that can become food for the good bacteria in your gut.
4 medium blood oranges
1 1" piece ginger, peeled, coarsely chopped
1 3" cinnamon stick
½ cup sugar
¼ cup (or more) apple cider vinegar
Club soda (for serving)
Remove zest from blood oranges in wide strips with a vegetable peeler, leaving as much pith behind as possible. Set half of zest aside for serving. Slice oranges in half; squeeze juice through a fine-mesh sieve set over a measuring glass or small bowl (you should have about 1 cup juice). Discard pulp and seeds; set juice aside.
Bring ginger, cinnamon stick, cloves, sugar, remaining blood orange zest, and 1 cup water to a boil in a medium saucepan over medium heat. Cook, stirring occasionally, until sugar is dissolved and mixture is reduced by half, about 5 minutes. Let cool, then strain syrup through a clean fine-mesh sieve into a clean measuring glass; discard solids.
Stir vinegar and reserved blood orange juice into syrup. Taste shrub—it should be a well-balanced sweet-and-sour flavor; add more vinegar by the tablespoon if needed.
To serve, pour 3 Tbsp. shrub into each of 8 ice-filled glasses. Top off each with 4–5 oz. club soda and stir gently to combine. Garnish with reserved zest.
Do ahead: Shrub can be made 6 weeks ahead. Pour into a 1-pint glass jar; cover and chill.