Vowing to “quit drinking” is one of the leading promises we make to ourselves every new year. It’s also one of the resolutions we are most likely to break. Cutting down on drinking is haaaaard. 

While our habits are improving, Australia is still a big drinking culture. If you’re not drinking, it can sometimes feel like you’re not socialising either. So many good times go hand-in-hand with a drink. A family barbecue, a night out, an important full stop to the end of a working week.

All of these events trigger something of a craving for a drink. The event acts as the cue and our response is to have a drink with that.

Reward yourself

According to leading habits writer James Clear, it’s not actually the drink we are craving, but rather what it provides.

“What you crave is not the habit itself but the change in state it delivers,” he writes. In other words, it’s stopping for a drink, rather than the drink itself that we crave. Other rewards attached might be being with friends, being fully present as you wind down after a busy week, or even just giving yourself the space to stop for a moment.

This is good news indeed, because it means that if we can find a truly satisfying non-alcoholic drink to swap our usual alcoholic beverage for, we’re going to be winning. We’ll get all the same benefits from kicking back with a drink, without the alcohol we are determined to give up.

Enter the shrub.

Mix away

You might never have heard of these drinking vinegars, but they’re what your cleverest mixologist uses to bring variety and depth to cocktails. A shrub is basically a non-alcoholic syrup that concentrates fruits, aromatics, sugar and vinegar together. It’s as potent a mix as it sounds and perfectly delightful without any alcohol at all.

Shrubs are sweetly tart – or tartly sweet, depending on your mix – and taste just as good when mixed with soda water as they do when poured over alcohol. The overwhelming flavour is the fruit – highly concentrated as a shrub steeps for at least a week before pouring.

Variety is the spice

The true beauty of the shrub is that you can make one from any kind of stemmed or stoned fruit. Apples, peaches, nectarines, berries, pears, cherries… Your shrubs can be seasonal and, even better, cheap, depending on what’s in store. They feel made for summer days, however, with their refreshingly tart flavour and long-drinking ways.

You can basically mix whatever you fancy into a shrub. The general formula is one part fresh fruit to one part sugar to one part vinegar. Don’t forget to use interesting vinegars to bring even more flavour and variety to your shrub collection. Here’s the lowdown on how to make one:

How to make a fruit shrub

Makes: around 2 cups, depending on fruit used

Equipment needed: large glass jar with lid, deep soup pot, wooden board, saucepan, measuring cups, food thermometer, cheesecloth or coffee filter, funnel

Ingredients

2 cups any stemmed or stoned fruit (berries are particularly good)

2 cups vinegar – ensure it contains at least 5% acidity

2 cups sugar – any kind, though plain white sugar is most often used

Method

  1. Wash the jar and lid in hot, soapy water and thoroughly rinse. Scald the lid with boiling water and set aside on paper towel to dry. Place open jar in the pot and cover with warm water to at least 5 cm. Bring the pot to boil for 10 minutes, remove with tongs and place upright on wooden board.
  2. Heat the vinegar in the saucepan to just below boiling point (around 90°C). Put the fruit into the jar and gently pour the hot vinegar over the fruit. Tightly screw on the lid of the jar.
  3. Leave in a cool, dark place (the back of the pantry is ideal) for at least one week and up to one month.
  4. When ready, strain the fruit from the vinegar through the cheesecloth. You will need to do this a few times until the vinegar is clear. Either discard the fruit, or use it to make a chutney or pie.
  5. Place the vinegar with the sugar in the saucepan and bring to the boil, stirring continuously. Once sugar is fully dissolved, remove from the heat and set aside to cool.
  6. While the shrub cools, re-sterilise the jar (see step 1). Pour the cooled syrup into the jar to store in the refrigerator for up to 6 months. Discard your shrub immediately if it shows any sign of fermentation (bubbling, cloudiness, sliminess) or mould.
  7. To serve, mix the syrup into a glass of soda or mineral water to taste. Add additional fruit or herbs to bring new flavours to your drink. You can also use your syrup over ice cream, in salad dressings or as a glaze for a cake or sweet pie.

Cheers to New Year’s resolutions!