Why are we suggesting you start adding shrubbery to your cocktails, you ask? While we love creative flavor mixes (and are certainly not dissing the flavor profile of your landscaping), we are actually referring to the liquid shrub, which is a drinking vinegar with a fruit/veg/herb syrup base.
Shrubs may appear to be one of the “hot new things” in the cocktail world (one of our most popular cocktails — The Wild East — features a Jalapeño Shrub we make in house) but, in fact, they were commonly used centuries ago to preserve fresh fruit and veggies, before refrigeration was readily available.
And just because most of us now have fridges, the pioneering flavor of a well made shrub shouldn’t be lost.
In the United States, the story begins with the wise pioneer women who were inspired by the British technique of using vinegar to preserve seasonal fruits and vegetables. They would basically infuse the vinegar with the fresh produce for several days, strain out the fruit or veg, and mix the remaining liquid with sugar or honey, which they’d then reduce to a sweet-and-sour syrup that could be added to water or alcohol.
In general, making a shrub is as easy as making a syrup. Using a simple 1:1:1 ratio, all you need is equal parts sugar and whatever fruit, veg, or herb you want to flavor the shrub, which will turn into a syrup that you’ll then mix with an equal amount of vinegar. However, be aware that the ingredients you choose can react in a variety of ways (see Potential Issues).
To create approximately 1 cup of shrub:
- Prep your flavor ingredient(s) by chopping them up and muddling them (to release the juices/oils).
- Mix 1 cup of your flavor ingredient(s) with 1 cup of sugar in a mason jar. Do your best to ensure the fruit/veg/herb is completely mixed into the sugar. Refrigerate.
- Check on a daily basis. (After 12-24 hours you’ll start to see the syrup forming.) Stir or shake to keep the ingredients well mixed.
- When the syrup is fully (or at least mostly) formed, filter out the flavor ingredient(s) — depending on your ingredient(s), you may need to use cheesecloth and squeeze any remaining juice or oils from the fruit/veg/herb before you discard it (or use it for something else creative–channel your inner pioneer).
- Measure the remaining syrup (it may be less than 1 cup) and mix it with an equal amount of vinegar (white, apple cider, etc. — depends on how you want it to taste).
- Store in the fridge indefinitely.
Our Jalapeño Shrub and Plum Shrub (shown above) are really this easy to make. Our attempt to make a cranberry shrub, however, wasn’t quite so simple. Perhaps because of the lack of oils and juice, the syrup didn’t form on its own; so we had to use the cheesecloth squeeze-strain method and there wasn’t as much syrup to work with in the end. This simply means you use less vinegar (remember: equal parts vinegar and syrup). Note, however, that the brown sugar version (below on the right) worked a little better than the white sugar version (below on the left).
If your choice of fruit or vegetable doesn’t seem to work quite right (which is more often the case with anything that isn’t very juicy or oily), you can also go ahead and mix in the vinegar and leave it to sit for a few days until it tastes how you want it, then strain out the flavor ingredients.
If you aren’t feeling like a cocktail (really??) but still want to drink something adventurous, you can make a soda by mixing the shrub with sparkling water, whip up a fancy punch, or simply sip the shrub on its own.
We think you’ll find that once you start experimenting, you’ll like shrubs as much as this guy: