By Warren Bobrow
Contrary to what you might think, shrubs are not the large green hedge plants that grow in your backyard.
As the “Knights Who Say Ni” well know, those are shrubberies. The real shrubs—strange and delicious concoctions of vinegar and sugar-preserved fruit syrup—are making a comeback.
Shrubs had their peak in the United States during the colonial era and were frequently used into the mid-1800s, mostly among the working class. Fruit syrup was an inexpensive, sweet refreshment. People found that drinking certain acidulated liquids like shrubs cured their aching bellies and gave them quick energy, too. The acidic vinegar also helped purify their poisonous drinking water.
When fizzy, cheaply produced soda pop hit the scene, shrubs all but disappeared from drinking vernacular. But modern hipster mixologists have rediscovered the magic of shrubs. Now people are starting to use them at home, too.
Shrubs can be simply made with only three easy-to-purchase ingredients: sugar, vinegar and fruit, plus water. They have a salty, sealike undertone but are also sweet and tart. The fruit gives a deeply welcome hit of sweet perfume, the raw cane sugar sweetens naturally, and the unmistakable tang of 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 they’ve gotten 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.
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, the shrub will have a pale red hue.
- 1 cup very ripe organic raspberries
- 1 cup raw cane sugar
- 1 cup raw cider vinegar
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.
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 memorable!
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 PUNCH
- Ice cubes
- 4 ounces sugar cane rum
- 3 ounces raspberry shrub
- ½ ounce freshly squeezed lime juice
- ½ ounce freshly squeezed lemon juice
- ½ ounce freshly squeezed orange juice
Fill a cocktail shaker three-quarters full with ice. Pour rum, 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 cocktail glasses. Strain cocktail into glasses and serve.
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 white wine vinegar or Champagne vinegar
Preheat the oven to 350°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 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 a week before using.
Note: If your shrubs ever become fuzzy, foamy or speak in strange tongues, throw them out immediately! Mold is not your friend!
Only Fair Play Mocktail
- Ice cubes
- 2½ ounces Roasted Peach Shrub
- 2½ ounces rye whiskey
- 3 ounces plain seltzer water, divided
- 4 dashes aromatic bitters
- Fresh mint, for garnish
Fill 2 old fashioned glasses with ice and water, and then set aside to chill.
Fill a cocktail shaker three-quarters full with ice. Pour shrub and whiskey over the ice. Cover, cap and shake hard for 15 seconds or until frosty.
Pour ice water out of the cocktail glasses. Add a couple ice cubes to each glass. Strain the cocktail over the ice and top with seltzer water. Dot each cocktail with bitters and garnish with sprigs of fresh mint.
THE OLD PACIFIC COCKTAIL
- ¼ teaspoon fresh thyme plus a sprig for garnish
- Ice cubes
- 2 ounces Roasted Peach Shrub
- 1 tablespoon lemon zest
- 1 ounce plain seltzer water
- Aromatic bitters
Add thyme and a handful of ice to a mixing glass.
Add shrub and lemon zest. Stir 40 times and then strain into a cocktail glass over a large ice cube.
Add a splash of seltzer water, a couple drops of bitters and garnish with a sprig of thyme.
Warren Bobrow is the author of Apothecary Cocktails, and his second book, Whiskey Cocktails will be released in October. In addition to his popular blog, The Cocktail Whisperer, Warren has written for Foodista.com, Voda Magazine, Saveur, Serious Eats, and Edible. You can follow him on Twitter at @WarrenBobrow1.