Can Drinking Vinegar Upgrade Your Non-Alcoholic Drinks?

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Can Drinking Vinegar Upgrade Your Non-Alcoholic Drinks?

Drinking vinegar, as I’ve discovered when I’ve told people I’ve been writing an article on the subject, seems to be, for many, somewhat controversial. Vinegar is for being slathered on chips at the beach, poaching the perfect egg or, for those who feel most strongly, reserved for cleaning products only. Most people pulled a face and looked concerned that I was keen on the idea of consuming vinegar in a way that involved pouring it into a glass to drink, and I too admit I would have felt the same—until recently. 

As a non-drinker, I’ve found the availability of non-alcoholic options getting increasingly better over the past few years. However, still one of my main struggles when I’m in a bar or restaurant is that a lot of non-alcoholic options featured on menus are very sweet. A non-alcoholic porn star martini might be a dream on the beach, but not so much when it’s paired with steak tartare and fries.

For someone whose main vice used to be a glass of wine, gin and tonic or an aperitif, sweet drinks have never appealed to me. So, I recently challenged my boyfriend to bring me something non-alcoholic and, crucially, bitter, back from the bar. I presumed I would be down on my luck and stuck with my usual tonic water and ice. However, he came back with something close to a miracle—it turned out to be a drinking vinegar-based non-alcoholic aperitif mixed with soda water, orange peel and ice. Bitter, smooth but definitely not sweet, its flavor has citrus and herbal undertones with a striking but balanced acidity. How had I never tried this concoction before? What was it made of? Was it even okay to drink vinegar?! 

Drinking vinegar, it turns out, isn’t a new trend. Although shrubs and drinking vinegar started to spring up in parts of the U.S. in the early 2010s (well before I’d even considered drinking a non-alcoholic option in a bar), they now appear to be making a resurgence in the wellness and low- and no-alcohol spaces. However, the origins of drinking vinegar go a lot further back than recent history. 

Vinegar has been consumed by humans as far back as 10,000 years, with records suggesting ancient Egyptians and Babylonians used it not only to preserve food (a tradition that has clearly lasted the test of time) but also as a drink. People would mix vinegar with water and sometimes honey. Evidence suggests that vinegar was believed to have medicinal properties, so it was also used for healing wounds and killing bacteria: another reason why it may have been a desired addition to a glass of water. 

Botivo, a non-alcoholic aperitif that contains apple cider vinegar, was the main ingredient in the drink my boyfriend brought me back that day in the bar. It is a small-batch, handmade aperitif that aims to appeal to so-called “healthy hedonists.” 

Co-founder Imme Ermgassen thinks it’s popular with non-drinkers because of the depth of flavor it’s able to provide. “Many other non-alcoholic options are water-based and filled up with flavorings, which means they don’t have the complexity of alcohol. In its original form, vinegar was once alcohol, which could be a clue to why drinking vinegar, although only containing a 0.1% ABV, tastes so good,” she said. Imme also explained that vinegar is a great carrier for the natural flavorings added to it, which is why it tastes so rich. 

When asked whether Botivo and other drinking vinegars have the potential to reach the mass market, Imme suggested that, at least for her and co-founder Sam Paget Steavenson’s product, it’s unlikely, as the production is difficult to scale. They source quality apples from an orchard in Devon, and once they have been aged for a year, it takes three to four weeks to infuse the vinegar.

Whilst this laborious process means that products like Botivo will likely remain premium (Botivo retails for £26.95 for approximately 20 drinks), as revenue in the non-alcoholic drinks market amounted to $1.45 trillion in 2023 and is set to grow annually by 4.56% between now and 2027, it feels like there is definitely more space for drinking vinegars as high-end alcohol alternatives. And for those who don’t want to pay those kinds of prices for their non-alcoholic drinks, it’s relatively simple to make a shrub in your own kitchen.

For those looking for a non-alcoholic alternative to their favorite spirits (or who just want to add an acidic punch to anything they’re drinking), drinking vinegar proves a more interesting ingredient than the sugar-spiked mixers you may find in an average bar’s cocktail repertoire. This summer, shrubs may just provide the refreshing flavor profile you’re looking for in a happy hour drink.

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