Real shrubs for your cocktail glass, not the kind that take up room in your front yard, are a strange and delicious concoctions of vinegar and sugar-preserved fruit syrup. During the late summer months, they are especially delicious because they are inexpensive to make and quite thirst slaking. And guess what? This respectable beverage that has its roots in the Colonial Era and are making a comeback in restaurants, craft cocktail bars, and even at home.
The history of Shrubs dates back hundreds of years. They were most frequently used into the mid-1800s, regularly among the working class because utter lack of refrigeration (and electricity) for the preservation of fresh ingredients. No refrigeration meant all bad things to the gut.
Home-made, vinegar based fruit syrup was an inexpensive, sweet refreshment that could be added to a multitude of liquids. People found that drinking certain kinds of acidulated liquids like shrubs helped ease their aching bellies from the consumption of ‘compromised foods and drink’. Drinking these easy to make and easier to enjoy- sweet and tangy beverages were found to give the imbiber quick energy, too. Were they the first energy drinks? Possibly…
The acidic vinegar based beverages helped to purify their poisonous drinking water in the ages before sanitization.
When fizzy, cheaply produced soda pop hit the scene in the late 1800’s, shrubs all but disappeared from popular drinking vernacular and might have been lost forever if it wasn’t for the resurgence of the popularity of barmen such as Jerry Thomas.
Fast forward to today, mixologists have rediscovered the magic of utilizing fresh fruit and vegetable shrubs in their craft cocktails. And now aficionados are starting to toy with them at home because of their ease in production.
Classical elements and techniques are hot behind the cocktail stick because they are authentic!
Shrubs can be simply made with only three easy-to-purchase ingredients: raw sugar, some kind of vinegar and fruit, plus a bit of water. They have a salty, sea-like undertone but are also sweet and tart. The fruit gives a deeply welcome hit of sweet perfume, the cane sugar (essential) sweetens naturally, and the unmistakable tang of your favorite vinegar makes your lips pucker, and few things are more salutary for the gut than naturally fermented beverages. Shrubs really were the original energy and health drink. And now it looks like this tangy combination of flavors have received their second wind!
Here are two of my favorite shrubs, along with three cocktail recipes.
Note: These shrubs will remain fresh for 1 to 2 months in the refrigerator, unless until they start to dance the jig and sing in Gaelic, then make a new batch immediately!
Summer Raspberry Shrub
Makes about 1 1/2 cups
This very basic shrub makes all kinds of refreshing combinations. Although the raspberry shrub starts out vividly red, in the end result, after a couple of weeks fermenting; the shrub will have a pale coral hue. It’s delicious mixed with gin, vodka, rum, whiskey, Scotch, Sherry, white wine- and of course just plain seltzer water!
- 1 cup very ripe organic raspberries (they can be bruised and soft, but please, no mold)
- 1 cup raw cane sugar
- 1 cup raw cider vinegar (I use Bragg’s with the Mother Yeast intact)
- In a nonreactive bowl, add raspberries and pour sugar over the top.
- Cover and let sit refrigerated for a few days, stirring and muddling often with a wooden spoon to combine. This mixture should expel lots of liquid, this is good!
- After a few days of gentle fermentation, add vinegar. Let the vinegar combine with the sugar and raspberries for another week refrigerated.
- Arrange a fine-mesh strainer over a nonreactive bowl (one with a spout is handy). Pour the shrub mixture into the strainer and mash with a wooden spoon to extract as much liquid as possible.
- Funnel the shrub into sterilized jars. Cover and refrigerate for at least a week more, shaking well before using.
- The assertive vinegar flavor will fade over time, leaving you a simple syrup that is tangy, sweet and very noteworthy!
- Tip: A simple way to enjoy this raspberry shrub is with a glass of seltzer water and the addition of a few slivers of lemon zest.
AFTER A PAUSE:
Late Summer Punch (serves 2)
- Ice cubes
- 4 ounces Mezan XO Jamaican Rum
- 3 ounces Raspberry Shrub
- ½ ounce Freshly Squeezed Lime juice
- 1 ounce Freshly Squeezed Lemon juice
- 1 ounce Freshly Squeezed Orange juice
- 4 dashes Angostura Bitters
- Fill a cocktail shaker three-quarters full with ice. Pour the Mezan XO Rum, your handmade Shrub and juices over the ice. Cover, cap and shake hard for 15 seconds or until frosty.
- Add a large ice cube to each of 2 coupe glasses. Strain cocktail into each of the glasses, dash the Angostura over the top of each glass (2 dashes each) and serve while icy.
Roasted Peach Shrub
Makes about 1 1/2 Cups
- 2-3 pounds peaches, preferably extra ripe, roughly chopped
- 2¼ cups raw cane sugar, divided
- 2 cups Champagne vinegar
- Preheat the oven to 400°F.
- Arrange peaches on a large rimmed baking sheet. Sprinkle with ¼ cup of the sugar and roast for 45 minutes or until deeply caramelized. Let cool and transfer to a nonreactive bowl.
- Cover roasted peaches with remaining 2 cups sugar. Cover and let sit in the refrigerator for several days, stirring often to mash and muddle the peaches and release peach-flavored sugar syrup.
- After a few days, add the vinegar. It may bubble a bit, which is ideal. Cover and let sit refrigerated for a further week, stirring twice daily to release the flavors.
- Arrange a fine mesh strainer over a nonreactive bowl (one with a spout is handy). Pour the shrub mixture into the strainer and mash with a wooden spoon to extract as much liquid as possible.
- Funnel into sterilized jars. Cover and refrigerate for at least another week before using. This shrub takes at least three weeks to actualize. Please, plan ahead!
Note: If your shrubs ever become fuzzy, foamy, spin like whirling dervishes or try to take the car keys, send them down the drain immediately! Mold is not your friend! Remember the Salem Witch trials and the fun they had with home-made mold!
Only Fair Play Allowed
- Ice cubes
- 2½ oz. Roasted Peach Shrub
- 2½ oz. Barrell Whiskey Batch #002
- 3 oz. plain seltzer water, divided between the two Old Fashioned glasses with large cubes of hand cut ice
- 4 dashes Angostura Bitters
- Fresh mint, for garnish
- Spray of Absinthe
- Fill 2 old fashioned glasses with plain ice and water, and then set aside to chill.
- Fill a Cocktail Mixing Glass ¾ with ice
- Add the Roasted Peach Shrub and the Barrell Whiskey
- Stir for at least 30 turns
- Pour ice water out of the cocktail glasses and spray the inside of each glass with Absinthe.
- Add a couple fresh ice cubes to each glass.
- Double strain the cocktail over the ice and top with a splash of seltzer water.
- Dot each cocktail with the Angostura Bitters and garnish with impeccably clean and dry sprigs of fresh mint.
Across Rivington Street (mocktail)
- Couple pinches of fresh thyme (No Wood please, it’s bitter. Use just the leaf) plus a sprig of thyme just for the garnish
- Large Handmade ice cubes
- 2 oz. Roasted Peach Shrub
- 2 lemon zests
- 1 oz. plain seltzer water
- Aromatic bitters
- Add thyme leafs and a handful of ice to a mixing glass.
- Add shrub and your lemon zest. Stir at least 30 times and then strain into a double old-fashioned glass over a large round ice cube.
- Add a splash of seltzer water, a couple drops of bitters and garnish with a fresh lemon zest that you pinch over the top and a sprig of fresh thyme over that.
- Don’t be afraid of adding more of that Mezan XO Rum if you have it handy. This drink tastes amazing with a couple ounces of Mezan Rum.