You might not think vinegar is such a great idea for cocktails, but it’s more than finding a use for that bottle of opened wine that’s been sitting too long on that back shelf. The term vinegar covers a huge range of products some of which may surprise you with their smooth flavor and pleasant aroma.

So, put out of your mind the sour, smelly and oily stuff cheap restaurants douse their salads with and let’s take a look at all the cool cocktails you can mix up with vinegar.


A relatively unknown subcategory within mixology, shrubs are vinegar-based drinks that have their origins in Colonial days. Silly jokes about plants aside, this article talks about the impact these oldies-but-goodies are making in modern times.  Shrubs are usually relatively mild in flavor and prefer to stay in the background, preferring to enhance the overall sensation of the cocktail rather than dominate it. They are also wonderful thirst quenchers, and a perfect way to start the night off.

The nice thing about shrubs is that they are mixed drinks that can also be used as ingredients as well. The mild flavor adds a subtle undertone and will do well in many drinks meant to be consumed on a hot summer’s day. There are plenty of places that make their own shrubs (we’ve done it too) and there’s no reason for you not to do the same; it’s not hard and you’re almost guaranteed to be making a real crowd-pleaser.

Fruity vinegar

Another great set of vinegars doing the rounds will come from products like apple cider: sure they’re sour, but they have more going for them than just that. An interesting mix of sour and sweet, by stocking this product you can make things you won’t see behind every neighborhood bar. As with the shrubs above, these won’t be drinks that overwhelm the senses: these creations are going to be very mellow in both flavor and alcoholic content. On top of the novelty of using a rare product, apple cider vinegar is a great way to take the toxins out of your body, perfect for the day after you were up all night drinking the hard stuff.

The Hard Stuff

Of course it isn’t all novelty vinegars that feature smooth aftertastes and a fruity sparkle. There are a handful of cocktails that use honest-to-goodness vinegar like you’ll find in your kitchen cabinet. Balsamic is the most popular, with it’s unique taste used to good effect in several excellent, if outlandish, cocktails. Caution is advised when using balsamic, though, because a slip of the bottle can have your creation tasting like something was strained through an old sock. Do you remember fine dining in the 90s? When they put balsamic on basically everything? Like that, but in a glass.

On the flavor wheel, these straight-up vinegars are mostly found as a polar opposite to bitters. With that in mind, feel free to experiment and see what you can come up with: maybe that old wine in the back will be of some use after all?

Fergus O'Sullivan

Fergus has spent a lot of time in bars, both behind and in front of them. He likes to share the expertise gained during this long, fuzzy time with others on the Internet.