Are you feeling adventurous? Looking to mix up your standard cocktail ingredients? We may have something for you – Shrubs. “What the f*ck are shrubs?”, you ask? Come on in, and let me tell you.
To put it simply, a shrub is a vinegar-based syrup, most often flavoured with fruits or vegetables. It can be enjoyed topped with soda water or as an acidic component of a boozy concoction.
First, lets turn back the clock.
Vinegar as a beverage could be as ancient as wine itself, as all wine becomes vinegar. Consuming it as a beverage has been linked all the way back to the ancient Greeks and Romans. It is believed that it helped sanitize unclean water and was enjoyed by the those not wealthy enough to purchase wine.
The word “shrub” and shrubs themselves have origins in the 16th century Middle East. Slowly evolving and moving through Europe, they eventually arrived in the New World, where they became very popular during the Colonial period. Even in those days it was closely linked with alcoholic libations as seamen commonly mixed shrubs with Rum or Brandy.
Somewhere between the late 19th and early 20th century, several factors such as prohibition, innovation in refrigeration, and the invention of modern sodas led to the decreased consumption, and the eventual disappearance, of shrubs.
In modern times, shrubs saw a resurgence in 2004 thanks to curious chefs, bartenders, and time-honouring farmers.
How to Make a Shrub
As a good starting point, I like to use a 1:1 sugar-to-vinegar ratio. Play with this ratio. Add a little more sugar to subdue the vinegar or reduce to really feel the kick.
Same goes for fruit – Play and experiment. The quantity of the fruit really depends on what you’re using. You won’t need much for very juicy fruit, but you may need more for citrus zests or vegetables.
At this point you’re probably wondering what vinegar to use. Let your palate and preferences guide this. I personally prefer milder vinegars such as champagne, apple cider, and white wine. They lend their acidity nicely to fruit without overpowering them. While Balsamic, red wine vinegars also work, I find them very overpowering – a little too strong for my palate.
There are two basic ways to make a shrub. Both methods are similar to creating syrups.
Method 1: Cold Process
This process works well for extracting flavourful oils. For example lemon and lime peels, or herbs such as lemongrass.
½ cup granulated sugar
½ cup vinegar
In an uncovered bowl, mix your sugar with desired fruit/vegetable, and muddle to extract juices or oils. Let the sugar further extract the oils and juices by letting it rest for about an hour. Mix the result – a sugared oil – with your vinegar of choice and store sealed in the fridge. Should keep for about a year.
Method 2: Hot process
½ cup granulated sugar
½ cup water
½ cup vinegar
In a small sauce pan, heat water, sugar, and muddled fruit/vegetable. Stir occasionally until sugar is dissolved and let cool. Once cooled combine vinegar and store sealed in the fridge. Should keep for about a year.
Shrubs in Cocktails
As mentioned above, shrubs can be added as the acidic component in cocktails. We’re replacing the citric acid from lemons, limes, or other citrus with the acetic acid found in vinegar. In my opinion, this is where shrubs really shine. Much like cocktail bitters, shrubs add so much depth and complexity to cocktails.
Here are three of our favourites:
2 oz bourbon
¾ oz strawberry balsamic shrub
2 dashes Angostura
Add all ingredients to a mixing glass with ice and stir. Strain into an ice filled rocks glass and garnish with a cherry.
1 ½ oz vodka
1 ½ oz grapefruit shrub
Add ingredients in an ice filled collins glass, top with soda, and gently stir to combine.
1 ½ oz gin
¾ oz ginger shrub
½ oz Riesling
½ oz honey syrup
½ oz lemon juice
Add all ingredients to a shaker with ice and shake well. Strain into a coupe or martini glass. Optionally garnish with a lemon twist.
If you found this interesting and want more on Shrubs, I recommend you pick up Shrubs: An old-fashioned drink for modern times by Michael Dietsch. It’s a quick and fun read, filled with delicious shrubby recipes, both alcoholic, and non alcoholic .
The cocktail renaissance that we’re experiencing has led to the rediscovery of many forgotten treasures. Shrubs are one of them. They’ll take your cocktails to a whole new level and will definitely provide a new experience for you and your friends to enjoy.
Be adventurous and experiment. We have a lot of lost time to make-up!