For the non-foodies out there, a shrub is a fruit-infused vinegar recipe dating back to colonial times, which is making a pretty strong comeback in the craft cocktail scene. Gross? I think not!
So the shrub has been around a long time. Before refrigeration, it was a way to keep fruit in your diet through the winter. Scurvy is a real bummer. Now we love to praise vinegar for its health benefits, and while I can’t call a sugary cocktail mixer “healthy”, I will advocate that there are some benefits to shrubs as well. The cold process of infusing fruit through maceration (that is, letting the sugar draw the liquid out) actually preserves the fruit juice’s nutrients.
I’ve taken to mixing spices or herbs into the fruity mixers as well, and it’s a great way to try out different flavor combinations. You can also play with different types of sweeteners, including white sugar, brown sugar, honey, agave, and stevia. My attempts were with a Mango Cilantro flavor, and a Spiced Pear. And I think they came out both delicious and BEAUTIFUL!
Following this process, you can make just about any flavor you can think of. But here’s what I wish I knew before starting.
- Juicy fruits like mangoes, berries, and citrus will produce more juice in less time. The pear I used should probably have been mashed or blended first, rather than simply cut into chunks, as it took quite a bit longer for the maceration to produce as much juice as I needed.
- Use high quality, white wine or champagne vinegar. I used apple cider, and I could tell immediately that the flavor was compromised. If you’re crafting something from scratch using fresh fruit, real ingredients, and interesting flavor profiles (not to mention the hours of waiting for the maceration), do not let those efforts go to waste due to shoddy cheap vinegar.
- Think about the alcohol you like to drink and use shrubs as a twist on classic cocktails! If you love margaritas, try things that will go well with tequila and lime like strawberry, grapefruit, or pomegranate. Or, if you prefer not to drink, any shrub goes great with just club soda.
Using your shrub in drinks will always depend on your tastes, but a stronger shrub cocktail general ratio would be:
- One part shrub
- Two parts alcohol
- Two parts (or top with) something sparkling
And here are some delicious cocktail recipes, based on classic cocktails!
- One part strawberry, citrus, or mango shrub
- Two parts tequila
- Twist of lime
- Top with club soda
Dark and Shrubby
- One part cranberry, blueberry, or blackberry shrub
- Two parts rum
- Top with ginger beer
Sweet Shrub Whiskey
- One part apple, peach, or nectarine shrub
- Two parts whiskey
- Top with Prosecco
- One ounce (or, to taste) of ANY shrub
- Top with Prosecco, sweet, or dry champagne
Of course these are just some ideas, and all can be radically different based on what fruit and spices you mix in your original shrub mix (and what type of sweetener!)
Cool fruit and spice combos include:
- Apple + nutmeg + brown sugar
- Orange + red chili pepper (spicy shrubs!)
- Pear + clove + cinnamon
- Cranberry + pine needle
- Strawberry + jalapeno (more spicy shrubs!)
- Watermelon + peppercorn
- Blueberry + ginger + honey
- Cherry + vanilla
- Lime + cilantro + agave
- Peach + rosemary
- Grapefruit + thyme
But the list is truly endless. Using herbs from your own garden or fruit from your trees can add “organic” to the list of attractive things about shrubs, and truly impress all your stuffy foodie friends with your craft cocktails.
Have fun with your shrubs, and be daring! They aren’t hard to make at all, and you only use an ounce or so at a time, so they last quite a while. And given the sugar and vinegar content, they can last over a year in your fridge once opened, or practically indefinitely if properly sealed (always used a tested and proven recipe when canning food and storing without refrigeration).
Share your own recipe ideas or shrub experience below. Happy shrubbing!