Shrubs and the Modern CocktailMay 20, 2015 by Ryan Carrier
Within the resurgent craft bar movement is a curious, centuries old preparation known as a shrub that is quickly growing in popularity again. Having almost died out during the prohibition era, an endless variety of shrubs are again being utilized to enliven and elevate cocktails.
In simplest terms, a shrub is fruit juice that has been sweetened with additional sugar and stabilized with the addition of vinegar. Before the invention of refrigeration, pickling, canning and preserving expanded a potentially sparse winter pantry. Shrubs offered another popular way to preserve fruit past its use-by date. Mixed with water, shrubs were a ubiquitous summer cooler in Colonial America.
Ideal as a mixer with alcohol and soda, a little bit of shrub syrup goes a long way – with no more than an ounce needed in a typical cocktail. The tangy fruit bite of the shrub brightens cocktails, and the acid cleanses the palette. The resulting shrub cocktail is particularly food-friendly, as an aperitif or even paired with the meal.
Fruit and Friends
Typically, anything you would juice would make an excellent shrub base. From citrus to stone fruit and beyond, the riper the fruit, the better. Many shrubs are like mini cocktails themselves with two or three ingredients providing the flavor and color backbone of the syrup. Vegetables such as beets and fennel, as well as herbs and spices, can be utilized to create an endless variety of flavor profiles.
The only hard and fast rules for vinegar selection are that it is palatable, high quality and suits the flavor profile of the base ingredients. Apple Cider is perhaps the most common. In addition, red wine, sherry, Champagne and even balsamic may be appropriate for a particular shrub. A shrub with an Asian flavor profile, for example, may benefit from the use of rice wine vinegar.
While refined cane sugar might be the simplest and easiest choice, turbinado, honey, agave nectar, maple syrup and molasses all may be suitable for a particular flavor profile.
Although there is a variety of shrubbing processes, they are essentially variations on two methods. Like any of its pickled cousins, shrubs are shelf-stable and ready to use almost immediately. However, to create optimal flavor development, refrigeration allows some time for it to “mature” (12-36 hours) before utilizing in a beverage.
The Heated Method
Macerated fruit and sugar (and sometimes water; depending on the fruit utilized) are simmered on the stove top to combine and create a pulpy syrup. The product is cooled and strained before the addition of vinegar. The shrub is then bottled and refrigerated. The resulting shrub has a flavor that some describe as “cooked,” but is really a matter of preference and convenience.
The Cold Method
Macerated fruit is combined with sugar and left covered in a refrigerator for several days. The sugar draws the liquid out of the fruit before it is strained, and vinegar added. This method is favored by many bartenders for its superior flavor, with the only downside being the length of time it takes.
The Quick Method
Vinegar simple syrup is cooked and cooled. Fruits are juiced, strained and added to the cooled syrup before bottling and refrigeration. Easily the quickest of the methods, the results have excellent taste. However, the resulting shrub will be the cloudiest of the three. This can be mitigated by using a finer strainer or coffee filter for the juice.
Lemon Thyme Quick Shrub Recipe
Yields a little over a pint of shrub
- ½ cup (120 mL) Apple Cider Vinegar
- ½ cup (120 mL) Honey
- 6 ounces Blueberries
- 2 Apples, Granny Smith
- 3 Lemons
- Cold-Pressed Juicer
- In a saucepan, combine honey and cider vinegar.
- Apply heat to dissolve honey completely to create simple syrup.
- Allow syrup to cool to room temperature.
- Juice the remaining ingredients in a cold press juicer.
- Strain the juice through a chinois and reserve.
- Combine juice and simple syrup in an airtight container and shake.
- Allow the resulting “shrub” to sit refrigerated for 12-24 hours before using.
A cold-press juicer will provide an optimal product. However, you may use a conventional juicer or blend and strain your ingredients for a similar result. Always peel citrus and any other ingredient with a bitter or unpalatable peel.
The finished product can be utilized in a variety of ways: over ice with soda for summer cooler or as a component of your favorite cocktail.
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