While the term “shrub” might call to mind a short, green plant in someone’s garden, it means something quite different in the mixology world.
A shrub is essentially an acidulated (read vinegar-based) beverage as old as history itself. In the days before refrigeration, it was pretty evident that without some means for food preservation, keeping items fresh was difficult at best. Food borne illnesses could be prevented or at least minimized by the use of an acid. In this case, the combination of vinegar and sugar when added to either fruit or vegetables contributed to a rudimentary food preservation system that has existed up to modern times.
During the colonial era in particular, when daily labor was exhausting and folks needed something to cool off and reinvigorate themselves, shrubs were often drunk on their own. However, when a more festive mood took hold, shrubs were added to spirituous beverages, offering both a tart kick and a dose of healthy vinegar.
Was the shrub the original health drink? Certainly it was used for good health, right up to the time when soda pop was invented, spelling the demise of the shrub. In recent years, however, a resurgence of old methods has taken the cocktail world by storm. In search of new and intriguing flavor profiles, bartenders have started making shrubs in house and, in doing so, creating a wealth of unique drinks.
Shrubs are simply made with only three ingredients, a fruit (or a vegetable), sugar, and some type of vinegar. It does have to be aged after the mashing of fruit, sugar and vinegar, but that timing is really up to you. It can age quickly or over several weeks.
Below is a selection of shrub recipes and the drinks in which I’ve used them. You could easily customize your own beverage by adding a shrub to your favorite gin, vodka, and rum-based libations.
Colonial Sour Cherry Shrub
- 8 oz. Jar of Sour Cherry Preserves
- 1 cup Demerara Sugar
- 1 cup Apple Cider Vinegar
Preparation: Place the sour cherry preserves in a nonreactive bowl, and cover with the sugar. Let them steep together for at least overnight (or for a few days) at room temperature. Then strain the cherry mixture through a non-reactive sieve, crushing the tender fruits with a wooden spoon to extract as much flavor and sweet juice as possible. Combine with the vinegar; let the mixture sit for a few hours, and then strain into sterilized bottles.
The Benjamin Gunn Mystery Cocktail
- 2 tbsp. Colonial Sour Cherry Shrub
- 2 oz. Dark Rum (a Molasses-Based Rum that’s Been Aged in Ex-Bourbon Oak is Ideal)
- 1/4 oz. Dark Amber Maple Syrup
- Splash of Seltzer Water
- Lemon Twist
- Dash of Cherry Bitters
Preparation: Place an ice cube in a rocks glass, and add 2 tbsp. of the sour cherry shrub. Add the dark rum and the maple syrup, and then top with a splash of fizzy seltzer water. Garnish with a lemon twist, and dot with cherry bitters.
- 4 Limes, Zested and Quartered
- 1 cup Demerara Sugar
- 6 tbsp. Freshly Grated Ginger Root
- 1–2 cups Apple Cider Vinegar (Depending on the Height of the Ingredients when Placed in a Bowl)
Preparation: In a non-reactive bowl, combine the lime peels, lime quarters, sugar, and ginger. Stir to combine and coat all the fruit with sugar. Cover and leave at room temperature at least overnight or for 1 to 2 days. (Slow, cool fermentation gives a shrub its trademark bite.) Now prepare your shrub for aging. Set a strainer over another non-reactive bowl and pour the lime and ginger into the strainer. Use a stout wooden spoon to extract as much juice as possible from the limes and the softened ginger. Let the mixture sit for a few more hours.
Stir again, and discard the fruit chunks. Stir in the vinegar, and then use a funnel to transfer the shrub syrup to a sterilized bottle. Seal and then shake well to combine. Store the bottles in the refrigerator or at cellar temperature for 3 to 4weeks before using. Shake each bottle once or twice daily to help the sugar dissolve. When it’s mostly dissolved, your shrub is ready to use. Makes 1 1/2 cups. Keep refrigerated, and use within about 6 months.
Ginger-Lime Shrub with Rhum Agricole and Salty Lemonade
- 2 tbsp. Ginger-Lime Shrub
- 2 oz. 100-proof Rhum Agricole Blanc
- 3 oz. Freshly Made Lemonade, Sweetened with Raw Honey or Simple Syrup
- 1/2 oz. Seltzer Water
- 1 pinch Fleur De Sel
- 2–3 drops Lime Bitters
Preparation: Add the Ginger-Lime Shrub to an old fashioned glass. Then add an ice spear. Top with the Rhum Agricole Blanc, the lemonade, and a splash of seltzer water. Sprinkle a pinch of fleur de sel into the drink, and finish with a couple drops of lime bitters.
Squire’s Strawberry-Rhubarb Shrub
- 2 cups Roasted Strawberries and Rhubarb, Equal Parts
- 1 cup Demerara Sugar
- 1 cup Light Balsamic Vinegar
Preparation: Add the roasted strawberries and rhubarb to a non-reactive bowl. Cover with the sugar, stir to combine, and cover it with plastic wrap. Leave at cool room temperature for 24 hours. Stir frequently during this time to combine as the berries and rhubarb give off their liquid.
Place a non-reactive strainer above a second non-reactive bowl, pour the fruit-sugar mixture into the strainer, and use a wooden spoon to mash the mixture in order to release as much liquid as possible. (Reserve the mashed fruit to use in cooking or baking, if you like.) Add the balsamic vinegar to the liquid, stir, and let the mixture sit for a few hours. Funnel into sterilized bottles or jars, and age for 3–4 weeks in the refrigerator. This shrub will last nearly indefinitely, but if it begins to quiver, dance, or speak in foreign languages, throw it out.
Squire’s Shrub Cocktail
- 1 Brown Sugar Cube
- Several Dashes of Lemon Bitters
- 1/2 oz. Botanical Gin
- 2 oz. Squire’s Strawberry-Rhubarb Shrub
- 1 1/2 oz. Champagne, or Dry Sparkling Wine
- 1 Long Lemon Twist
Preparation: Add the sugar cube to a Champagne flute (see below), and moisten with the lemon bitters. Then add the gin and the Squire’s Strawberry-Rhubarb Shrub, and top with Champagne. Garnish with a long lemon twist.
Note: To prepare this flute, combine very finely chopped lemon zest and sugar, wet the rim of the glass with lemon, and dip the glass into yellow-colored sugar.