I first learned about shrub cocktails from a book I purchased while on a family vacation in Amsterdam. We went on a genever spirits (a juniper-flavored liquor) tour and I was intrigued by the Jerry Thomas Bartenders Guide, 1862 Reprint sold in the gift shop. Many consider this the very first cocktail book and it includes drinks that we still make today such as the Mint Julep and Champagne Cocktail. In addition to cocktails, the guide includes recipes for punches, syrups, and shrubs.
The word “shrub” is derived from the Arabic word sharāb, which translates to “beverage” or “to drink” in English. Shrubs were popular during Colonial America as a method for preserving fresh fruit. Jerry Thomas’ original recipe for a raspberry shrub consists of just three ingredients: vinegar, raspberries, and sugar. A wine glass of brandy was then added to each pint of the finished shrub.
“Two spoonfuls of this mixed with a tumbler of water, is an excellent drink in warm weather, and in fevers.” – Jerry Thomas
Simply put, shrubs are kinds of vinegar flavored with fruit and sweetened with sugar. Herbs and spices can be added to create unique flavor combinations. These “drinking vinegars” have both a tart and sweet flavor that can be enjoyed on its own or as a mixer.
Many people believe in the health benefits of a daily morning shot of apple cider vinegar. Many of the “health and wellness tonics” on the market today are actually forms of shrubs. If you want to include vinegar into your diet, homemade shrubs are an easier, less expensive, and tastier way to do it!
We all know how important it is to consume enough water, but plain water can get a little boring. Drinking shrub sodas can help boost your daily water consumption.
In recent years, shrubs have become a popular cocktail ingredient. The demand for zero-proof and low-alcohol drinks has been steadily rising. According to Nielsen, “Within bars and restaurants, no and low-alcohol beer is the fifth-fastest growing beer type in the U.S., and has a total value of $77 million. And at retail, non-alcoholic beverages are worth $7 billion more than just four years ago. In the last year alone, retail sales of non-alcoholic beverages have posted sales growth of $1.1 billion.”
Gone are the days where a person can only order a Shirley Temple or a soda at the bar. Today, there are many high-quality, sophisticated, non-alcoholic options available. Mixologists are crafting their own ingredients, like fresh juices, bitters and shrubs, and developing new creative recipes to mix them in. Bottled shrubs are available on the commercial market as well.
Although the original recipe followed a ratio of 3-parts fruit to 1-part vinegar, today’s standard shrub ratio is equal parts fruit, sugar, and vinegar.
Use any fruits for shrubs. In fact, it’s a great way to use your overripened or bruised fruit! As for sugar, popular options include cane, granulated, and turbinado sugar. For vinegars, you may choose from apple cider, balsamic, red wine, or champagne vinegar, to name a few. Below are some recipes that I tried at home. I especially enjoyed the Strawberry-Balsamic Shrub in a homemade vinaigrette and the cranberry shrub as an addition to my drinks:
Keep in mind that shrubs have a distinctive tart, vinegar-taste. Have fun trying different combinations of fruit, sugar, and vinegar! You can even play with the ratios to adjust the tartness and sweetness more to your liking.
There are a few methods for crafting shrubs, but this is the easiest:
When making cocktails, acids like citrus are often used to balance the sweetness in the drink. Use your favorite shrub vinegar in place of the citrus component.
Incorporate shrubs into some of these other dishes:
Drizzle a berry shrub over a bowl of vanilla ice cream for a refreshing dessert.
Add some berry shrub to iced tea for an energizing summer drink. Or try some apple shrub in hot black tea to enjoy in the fall!
Replace vinegar with a shrub in your vinaigrette recipes.
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