If you've recently been to a modern cocktail bar, you may have spotted an unusual ingredient on the drink menu: a shrub. Although this shares the name of something you'd commonly see in your garden, don't worry: there's nothing green or leafy about this drink. In fact, it's one of the most refreshing ingredients that you can add to a cocktail or club soda!
Before we dive into how to use it, let's answer the most obvious question first.
What Is a Shrub?
Simply put, a shrub is a type of vinegar-based syrup that has been used for centuries as a refreshing drink and digestive aid. The syrup is made by fermenting fruit with sugar, which is then left to macerate for a period of time. In the process, the fruit will release its natural juices and the sugar will dissolve. After several hours (or days, depending on your recipe), you will add vinegar to the mixture. The vinegar interacts with the fruit juice and creates a shrub syrup. The resulting mixture is then strained and can be used in a variety of drinks or around the kitchen.
A Brief History of Shrubs
The first shrubs were created by the ancient Egyptians, who would mix fruit, sugar, and vinegar to create a drink that would help them stay hydrated in the hot climate. Shrubs spread throughout Europe and the Middle East in the 1300s and 1400s and eventually made their way to America in the 1700s. They were popular among colonists because they were an easy method to preserve fruit and simultaneously make a tasty drink.
Although it was originally used as a way to preserve fruit due to a lack of modern refrigeration, shrubs are now making a comeback in the form of delicious cocktails or healthy and refreshing alternatives to sodas.
What You Will Need to Make Shrubs
To make your own shrubs at home, you will only need the following ingredients: a fruit of your choice, sugar, vinegar (i.e., white or apple cider), and a jar or bottle in which to store your shrub. You can use any type of fruit that you would like for your shrub—just be sure to adjust the sugar and vinegar ratios depending on the sweetness and tartness of the fruit.
There are two different methods to make a shrub at home: the hot method and cold method. Using the hot method, you speed up the process by simmering fruit in a simple syrup. This can be useful in a pinch if you need to use your shrub quickly. Alternatively, the cold method will take a little longer to make, but will yield a more authentic, crisp fruit taste. For the purposes of this article, we are going to focus on the cold method and teach you everything that you need to know to make this delicious syrup.
To make things simple, we will keep every ingredient in an equal parts ratio formula that is an excellent starting point for fermentation beginners.
What You Need to Get Started:
- 2 Cups of Sugar
- 2 Cups of Fruit
- 2 Cups of Vinegar
You have many options when it comes to picking your ingredients, and we are here to help navigate you through the process.
First, we will discuss sugar. Any sugar will do; however, Turbinado or granulated sugar will work the best. Turbinado is a raw, natural sugar and will taste extremely clean when combined with your ingredients. Granulated sugar is also a great option for shrubs due to its consistency—it's made up of very small grains, so they coat the fruit beautifully and do a wonderful job extracting all of the juices.
You also have many options for your vinegar at your disposal! The easiest, most versatile vinegar to begin with is apple cider vinegar. It already has a balanced fruit flavor as its base and contains a gentle tang that will pair beautifully with most fruits that you could choose as your shrub flavor. You also have red wine, white wine, and rice wine vinegar as options to play around with, but apple cider is the perfect choice for beginners until you experiment and learn the flavor profiles of each vinegar.
Regarding fruit, you will have dozens of options for which fruit or herbs that you would like to use to flavor your shrub. Although a common preference is to pick what is in season for the freshest taste, any fruit with a lot of internal juices will be a great option. Berries are very juicy, as are tropical fruits such as melons or pineapples. Pick your favorite fruit to start and we will get to shrubbin'!
Making Your Shrub
Cut, slice, or muddle your fruit to prepare it for the sugar. Then, set it aside. It depends on which fruit you have chosen, but you are essentially looking to "open up" the fruit in some form so that the sugar can more quickly get to the fruit. There are several different approaches to making shrubs with the cold method, but we recommend tossing your fruit with the sugar and leaving it in the refrigerator for 24 hours. Watch as the fruit begins to release its natural juices right before your eyes! It does not take long for the juices to start to appear. We recommend giving a quick stir every so often to allow the juices and sugar to mix in thoroughly.
After your sugar has had time to draw out the fruit juices, you will add your vinegar and stir that for several minutes. Make sure that everything is mixed well together and then strain your fruit. Your shrub is now ready for bottling! Put your liquid in a glass bottle or jar and keep it in the fridge. Your shrub should last quite a while (i.e., at least two or three months) if kept refrigerated properly.
How to Use Your Shrub
Now that you have done the work, it is time to play with your shrub! Your shrub combined with bubbly seltzer water creates a delicious drink; simply use about 1oz of shrub, fill your glass with seltzer, and add ice. The result is refreshing and delicious! You can also use ginger beer or different flavors of brands such as La Croix for more flavor combination possibilities.
For a boozier kick, try using Champagne or Prosecco as your bubbly agent. You can also add a shot of liquor to create more of a cocktail with your shrub. Now, we will review some different combinations to give you ideas!
Great Fruit & Herb Combinations
Below, please find a handful of potential combinations, including which vinegar to pair with certain fruits, and some alcohol pairing ideas to consider as well. It is all about balancing flavors and experimenting with different ideas to find your favorites. Notably, adding herbs to fruit choices produces more complex flavor profiles. Here are some ideas:
- Blackberry + Pear + Red Wine Vinegar + Gin
- Strawberry + Basil + White Wine Vinegar + Vodka
- Peach + Sage + Apple Cider Vinegar + Whiskey
- Pineapple + Thyme + Apple Cider Vinegar + Tequila
You can also consider adding shrubs to smoothies, yogurt, salad dressings, dessert toppings (e.g., ice cream and pies), and meat marinades. There are limitless options with how creative you can get with your new favorite fermented gold.
Shrubs are a great way to add flavor and sweetness to your cocktails and dishes, and they are also a blast to experiment with new flavors. With that in mind, the next time you are looking for a new ingredient to add to your cocktail or dish repertoire, give shrubs a try!