This past weekend, I saw the first of California’s strawberries at the grocery store. We may be right at the start of the season, but this Strawburry Shrub and Black Pepper Cocktail is too good for me to hold out on sharing any longer. Styled by Abby Capalbo and first featured in The Coastal Table, this cocktail is the best of spring in a cup. Plus, you can even leave out the vodka for a nice homemade soda to sip anytime.

Strawberry Shrub + Black Pepper Cocktail

The amount of vinegar used in the shrub depends on how sweet and fresh your strawberries are. Start with 1/2 cup as noted below, but taste the finished shrub after adding it and adjust as needed, adding another 2-4 tablespoons until mixture is a nice balance of tangy and sweet. Crushing the peppercorns slightly allows more of their flavor to release while simmering.

Strawberry Shrub
2 tablespoons black peppercorns
1 pound fresh strawberries, hulled and diced
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 cup water
1/2 cup apple cider vinegar, or more to taste

Ice, for serving
2 ounces vodka, or to taste
Club soda, for serving
Freshly ground black pepper, for garnish

1. Place peppercorns on a cutting board. Using bottom of a pan, gently smash peppercorns, breaking some open to release flavor. Transfer peppercorns to a double-lined piece of cheesecloth and tie with a piece of twine. Set aside.
2. Place strawberries, sugar, and water in a medium saucepan. Add bundle of peppercorns. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat to low and simmer until thickened, 10-15 minutes. Cool to room temperature. Remove and discard peppercorn bundle. Pour mixture through a fine-mesh strainer, scraping off any syrup from bottom of strainer. Transfer pulp from inside strainer to a bowl (see cook’s note). Stir vinegar into syrup. Allow mixture to cool to room temperature. Store shrub, covered, in refrigerator for up to 1 week.
3. To make a cocktail, place 1 large ice cube in a short glass. Add 2 ounces strawberry shrub, vodka, and top with club soda. Garnish with black pepper and serve.

Serves 1.

Cook’s note: The reserved pulp may be served on top of ice cream or yogurt.