Zero-Proof Strawberry Shrub Julep
May 4, 2021
The term “mocktail” doesn’t suit a drink like this. It sounds like you are poking fun or unsuccessfully mimicking a superior drink. But there are simply occasions where the answer is something non-alcoholic, and a standard cocktail isn’t the right choice. I’m liking “zero-proof” as a method of indicating the lack of alcohol. But trust me, you don’t miss it one bit in this strawberry shrub julep.
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I have been curious about shrubs and drinking vinegars for a while now, but it took a few weeks off of alcohol to convince me to dig in deeper. Don’t worry, I will still be posting plenty of cocktail recipes here, but maybe a few more non-alcoholic libations as well, like this one.
I like the way the vinegar provides a slight bite, making this have more depth of flavor than your average juice or soda. It can be a true sipping drink, something that you’d drink at the same pace as an option including liquor. Plus, treating it with the same class of nice glassware and a garnish makes it feel like more than the afterthought that zero-proof beverages sometimes tend to be.
What You Need to Get Started
You can easily find all of the ingredients for this strawberry shrub julep at your grocery store:
- Frozen: Strawberries
- Pantry: Sugar, White balsamic vinegar, Sea salt
- Fridge: Soda Water
- Produce: Mint Leaves
- Equipment: Saucepan, Mesh strainer (optional), Giant ice cube tray
How to Make a Strawberry Shrub Julep
Making a shrub-based drink starts similarly to making one with a flavored syrup, on the stovetop. A basic vinegar shrub starts with equal parts by volume of vinegar, sugar, and fruit. In most cases, berries are the fruit of choice, but anything that is more sweet than tart could likely work.
I decided to go with strawberries for this version. Frozen will be your first choice here, as they tend to release more juice when heated. However, if you have fresh berries on hand, those will work too. You may just need one or two more berries for the same amount of flavor.
Once I was working with strawberries, balsamic vinegar was a natural choice. However, I wanted a lighter version. If you’ve never had white balsamic vinegar, it’s a delicious alternative to other vinegars. It has a similar flavor to its darker counterpart, but with a lighter mouthfeel and a bit more zing.
Combine those together with the sugar into a saucepan and heat on medium high. You’ll want to stir it more at first, allowing the sugar to dissolve into the liquid. However, once it comes to a simmer, you can stir less often. At that point, use your spoon to smash the berries, breaking them apart into small pieces.
Once everything is bright red and a bit thickened, you can stir in just a small dash of sea salt and transfer the shrub to a mason jar. If you prefer a smooth syrupy shrub, pour the mixture through a fine mesh strainer first. I didn’t bother here, because I love the little tasty strawberry bits floating in the finished drink.
Cover the jar loosely and let it cool down to room temperature. Then seal it tightly and refrigerate until fully chilled, which should be a couple hours. You can make this shrub well in advance and store it for multiple weeks. Just be careful not to use it if it shows any signs of mold or fermentation.
You will get four total juleps out of this batch of syrup. You can enjoy those all at once, or one at a time over a period of weeks, or anything in between. To make each drink, add a giant ice cube to a water glass. You can also use a few standard ice cubes, but it will dilute the drink slightly faster.
Tear a few mint leaves just before adding them into each glass. This will help the herb release some of its oils into the drink, but won’t overpower it with mint flavor as muddling would. Also, if you happen to sip up a mint leaf in your straw, it will still taste fresh and delicious.
On top, add in three parts soda water to two parts shrub. Here, that came out to be three quarters of a cup to one half. But you can be flexible. If you want a larger drink, add a bit more mint. To make the shrub last for a few extra servings, scale everything back.
Stir it all together and add in a reusable straw. Garnish each glass with a fresh mint sprig, to add a little extra aroma and ritual to the experience. Serve these immediately once mixed, as the ice will begin to melt.
Looking for something sweet and refreshing that’s perfect for any time of day? This zero-proof strawberry shrub julep is the non-alcoholic beverage of your dreams.
How to Serve a Zero-Proof Cocktail
If you ask me, you can serve these exactly the same way you would serve any alcoholic cocktail, plus a few more occasions as well. Kick off your morning by having this strawberry shrub julep with breakfast or brunch. Play up the balsamic with a savory caramelized onion cheesecake, or the berries with a strawberry rhubarb crumble.
I love the idea of having a tray of these for a small dinner party happy hour. They would go wonderfully with a big platter of vegetarian nachos or a plate of vegan carrot “bacon” wrapped water chestnuts.
Dessert lovers, this drink is the perfect choice for that as well. Naturally, it pairs excellently with a strawberry and balsamic chocolate tartlet, or anything else chocolate. Try serving with rocky road black bean brownies. For something lighter, you can’t go wrong with earl grey lemon bars.
Other Drink Recipes
If you are looking for alcoholic options, you can adjust this recipe by replacing some of the soda water with your favorite liquor, like vodka, white rum, tequila, or whiskey. Or try something equally refreshing with a raspberry lemon mojito or cucumber basil and lime gin cocktail.
Coffee drinks are a classic favorite, and I love a decaf cold brew with vanilla spice cream. If you are looking for something to warm you up instead, you can’t go wrong with a honey and chestnut cafe au lait.
Zero-Proof Strawberry Shrub Julep
- 8-10 Frozen Strawberries See note
- ¾ Cup Sugar
- ¾ Cup White Balsamic Vinegar
- pinch Sea Salt
- 10-12 Fresh Mint Leaves plus sprigs for garnish
- 2 Cups Soda Water
- In a small saucepan, combine the strawberries, vinegar, and sugar. Heat on medium-high, stirring constantly but gently until the sugar dissolves into the vinegar.
- Bring the mixture to a simmer, and let cook stirring occasionally, mashing the strawberries against the sides and bottom of the pot, until slightly thickened, about 5-8 minutes.
- Stir in a pinch of sea salt and transfer to a mason jar. Cover loosely and let cool to room temperature, then seal and chill in the fridge until completely cooled. If desired, pour the mixture through a fine mesh strainer before transferring to the jar.
- Add a giant ice cube or a handful of standard ice cubes to four highball or water glasses. Tear the mint leaves into four pieces each and distribute among each glass.
- Pour ½ cup of soda water and about ¼ cup of the shrub into each glass. Stir to combine, and serve immediately with a mint sprig for garnish.
- Strawberries: I recommend using frozen strawberries in this, as they tend to release more juice when heated. However, if you have fresh berries, those will work too.
- Make it alcoholic: Replace 2oz of the soda water with 2oz of your favorite liquor. I suggest combining this shrub with vodka, whiskey, or tequila for a delicious cocktail.
- Make ahead tip: The shrub can be made in advance and stored in a sealed jar in the fridge for 6-8 weeks. Do not use if it shows any signs of mold or fermentation.