Shrub Me the Right Way

The Shrub-a-Dub-Dub cocktail (created by Kate Gerwin) is damn delicious . . . and I’m pretty sure the strawberry-rhubarb shrub has a lot do with it. Unsure what I’m talking about when I say shrub? Think Shaker & Spoon got a little Willy Wonka on some bushes? Maybe I should clarify: the cocktail pros at Shaker & Spoon didn’t invent a hybrid strawberry-rhubarb bush (though it’d be pretty cool if that happened, eh?). They did, however, produce a sweet, vinegar-based syrup that’s a great way to put a little spring in your sip.

When it comes to cocktails, shrub can actually mean a few different things. It can be a fruit liqueur made with rum or brandy and mixed with sugar and the rinds or juice of citrus fruit. It can also refer to a concoction of vinegar-based syrup mixed with spirits, water, or carbonated water. Or, it can simply be the sweetened, acidulated syrup used in such a concoction. That last one’s what’s included in Shaker & Spoon’s last box, Vodka, Adventures, and Spring, Oh My!

The word shrub stems (see what I did there?) from the Arabic sharbah, meaning “a drink.” Colonial Americans made their own shrubs by preserving fruit with vinegar for use in the off-season. In the nineteenth century, shrub recipes involved pouring vinegar over fruit and leaving it to infuse for as long as a few days. The liquid left after straining out the fruit would then be mixed with a sweetener and reduced to make a syrup to add to cocktails (or mocktails). Shrubs fell out of popularity with the advent of home refrigeration, when preservation was no longer a  method of ensuring food safety, but there’s been a recent resurgence of vinegar-based shrub drinks—and I’m certainly not complaining!

Photo: Ally Spier

Not to give too much away here, but a shrub is pretty easy to make. All you need is fresh fruit, sugar (brown, white, or raw will all do the trick, just choose according to your preference), and vinegar. The fruit doesn’t need to look perfect, it just needs to be ripe! Any vinegar will do, as long as it has at least 5% acidity. And you can either use a stove-cooked approach or a cold process; the first one’s faster, but the second one results in a stronger fruit flavor. It’s fun to taste your syrup right away, and then compare it to itself after some time has passed—the flavor will mellow over time as the acid stabilizes. Get started with a few recipes here and here.

No matter the ingredients or process you choose, you’ll end up with a delightfully thirst-quenching, tart and sweet syrup that’s perfect for sipping by itself or in a mixed drink. Now who has a porch swing I can come hang out on?

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