If you’re not a professional or aspiring mixologist, keeping up on all of the different cocktail ingredients can be difficult. You’ve got bitters and mixers, specialty sodas, flower waters, syrups, and then all of the different liquors. Not to make things more confusing, but I’m about to throw something new into the mix (pun intended). Let’s talk about shrubs.
Shrubs are an acidulated concoction of fruit, berries, aromatics, sugar, and vinegar. The word shrub is derived from the Arabic word sharab, which means “to drink.” These syrups, common in colonial America, were used to make delightful drinks. Home shrub makers would combine fruit or juice with sugar and vinegar, let that mixture steep for a week or so, then mix the resulting syrup with cool water to create a refreshingly tart beverage.
The syrups were a common method of preserving fruit, but when industrially produced foods and at-home refrigeration became the norm, shrubs dropped off.
Now they’re back with a vengeance, trailing the cocktail revolution and adding a whole new world of flavor to cocktails across the country. They have a fruit-forward flavor which brings a perfect balance of sweet and tart to drinks. The bright flavor of the fruit is balanced by the acidity of the vinegar, which works much like citrus in cocktails.
Many people are turned off by the vinegar. Don’t be. The vinegar provides a distinct tangy bite that works wonderfully with the sweetness of fresh fruit. It cleanses the palate, quenches thirst, and it’s ridiculously refreshing. There are so many different flavors you can put into it, so it opens up a ton of possibilities.
Making Shrubs at Home
You can make your own shrub syrups at home by macerating one part fresh, stemmed fruit with one part granulated sugar in a bowl in the fridge overnight. The sugar will extract the liquid from the fruit. The next day, strain out any solids and mix the fruit syrup with one part vinegar. Then, simply whisk to combine, and you have yourself a shrub syrup.
Shrubs on the Market
If that sounds like too much work, you could try one of the Shrub & Co syrups that we carry. Shrub & Co was founded by bartenders and cocktail enthusiasts for the purpose of reinvigorating the use of shrubs in the libationary arts. Shrub & Co uses only the highest quality ingredients from organic farms. Each of their syrups are handmade, with each bottle containing handwritten lot and batch numbers.
Another great shrub brand is Detroit-based McClary Bros Drinking Vinegars, a family business that uses organic, unpasteurized apple cider vinegar as its base, along with seasonal ingredients sourced (mostly) from Great Lakes region farms, and organic cane sugar to make flavors like Michigan Apple Pie, Michigan Basil, Pineapple & Fennel, and Michigan Lemon & Ginger. We also love the savory flavor Fire Cider, which we showcase in the refreshing tomato cocktail we call “Something About Mary.” Check out the recipe; it may take the place of Bloody Marys at your next brunch.
Shrubs can add depth and complexity to your drinks through a blend of sweet, savory, and tart notes. The shrub syrups pair well with spirits, sparkling wine, and beer. Non-tipplers often enjoy them with sparkling water.
Experiment and try the shrubs with some of your favorite concoctions, create something entirely new, or check out some ready-made recipes at the Shrub & Co website.
Don’t be intimidated by all of the different cocktail ingredients out there. Just think of them as opportunities. Most importantly, have fun when you’re experimenting with shrubs or any other ingredient. After all, that’s what drinking is truly about.