Shrubs

Give your cocktails a little something extra

"Much like syrups and fresh juices, shrubs allow you to bring great fruit flavours to your drinks, but with a unique vinegar kick."


If you're anything like I was a couple of months ago you're wondering: "what the heck is a shrub?"

A shrub is a syrup of sorts combining fruit, sugar and vinegar. Traditionally, it was used as a method for preserving fruit. The sugar and vinegar would stop the fruit from fermenting, and allow for the fruit to be stored and consumed for several months. You can mix it with water or soda to to make a refreshing drink. And, apparently, it's healthy.

More recently, shrubs are being used by bartenders and mixologists to make creative cocktails. Much like syrups and fresh juices, shrubs allow you to bring great fruit flavours to your drinks, but with a unique vinegar kick. Mix it with vodka, whisky, rum, or virtually any other spirit. Another great tool in the bartender's toolbox.

As a home bar owner with next to no experience making cocktails, I was intrigued by the multitude of combinations of flavours that can be produced when making shrubs. Shrubs, syrups and switchels (we'll get to that later) allow the beginner mixologist to make drinks that compete with the most experienced cocktail artist. Making shrubs sounds way more complicated than it sounds and anyone can do it with very little effort or experience.

Shrubs are about trial and error. Like I said, there are three basic components to a shrub - fruit, sugar and vinegar. The cool part is that you can experiment and play around with all three of the ingredients. Obviously, the options for fruit are virtually endless. You can keep it simple and use strawberries, or you can go crazy and use passionfruit, pomegranate, pears, etc. But its with the sugar and vinegar where you can get really creative. White vinegar and sugar are so boring. 

Here are the combinations I used:

  • raspberry, minneola zest and honey
  • blackberry, fresh ginger and pure maple syrup
  • cranberries, minneola zest and raw sugar

All of the ingredients were combined into a 500ml Mason jar and left to sit on the counter for four days. I added the zest and ginger for some secondary flavour. You don't have to use very much. I added four thin slices to the blackberries and four inch long minneola zests to the raspberries and cranberries. Don't put the jars in the refrigerator. Warmer temperatures allow the sugar to break down the fruit quicker.

A couple of things I noted here were (a) that the liquid sugars (honey and maple syrup) break down the fruit just as quickly as granulated sugars; and (b) some fruit is heartier and take longer to break down. In this case, the raspberry turned to liquid within 24 hours, while the cranberries hardly broke down at all after three days. You can feel free to crush up the fruit at any point to speed up the process if necessary.

Once you feel the fruit has given up all of its juice, you need to separate it from whats left of the fruit. I used a mesh type strainer, but I think I am going to invest in some cheesecloth for the next time. If you're going to use the shrub in a cocktail I think it should be as pure and clear as possible. Despite passing it through the strainer twice, the raspberry and blackberry mixtures produced pretty murky looking syrups. The cranberry syrup was comparatively clear. I guess it depends on the fruit.

At this point you have an amazing syrup that would be delicious in any cocktail.

But, if you want a shrub, you need to add vinegar. I used organic apple cider vinegar at a ratio of 1:5 - that is one part vinegar to five parts of syrup. You can really play with the proportions here. Some recipes call for equal parts vinegar and juice but that is way too strong for my taste. I also think that you keeping the vinegar lighter is a better option for use in cocktails. You could also experiment here with other vinegar types. The ratio of the vinegar to syrup will also depend on the kind of vinegar you use.

Finally, put the shrub in your bar fridge and let it sit for at least a week before you use it. Typically, the flavours will combine and mellow out the longer you let it sit. If you don't drink it all right away, the shrub will last in the refrigerator for three or four months. 

RECIPE

  • 1 part fruit
  • 1 part sugar 
  • 1/5 part vinegar

Combine the fruit and sugar in a Mason jar and let sit (unrefrigerated) for between 3-7 days.

Thoroughly strain the liquid from the remaining fruit.

Add vinegar to liquid and bottle.

Refrigerate for 7 days before consuming for best flavour.