Shrubs: A Summer Cocktail Must

Pete Capella
(Photo: )

The weather is hot and balmy. You are gross and sweaty…well, the ladies are perfectly glistening, but that’s beside the point. More importantly, you need a refreshing cocktail. Maybe vinegar isn’t the first thing that pops into your head, but it should be. Ladies and gentlemen, get ready to shrub!

A Brief Shrub History

It is mid 16th century England and taxes on alcohol are high. What else is a smuggler to do before coming into port except dump your barrels into the English Channel? But, man, that sea water sours a liquor. So, when retrieved, smugglers added a pre-made fruit syrup to the barrels to combat the salt water taste. This was the beginning of a shrub.

The modern way of making a shrub is not so modern at all. As a matter of fact, vinegar-based “shrubbing” was popularized in 18th century America. Most likely derived from the Arabic word sharab or sharbat, a syrup prepared from fruit and flower petals, a shrub is naturally flavored combination of vinegar, fruit and sugar. Early colonial settlers had a plethora of wild fruits growing on their land and a great way to preserve them was to combine the fruits with sugar and vinegar. This process extracted the juices from the fruits while the pH from the vinegar, combined with the natural yeasts in the air and the on the fruit, secured a shelf-stable, safe environment for preservation without cooling. The resulting syrup made an amazing flavor additive to water on hot days, along with a perfect complement to any alcohol.

These days, it is the perfect way to class-up a gathering.

How to Make Your Own Shrub

The Prep:

There is no better way to tell you how to make a shrub than to do it ourselves! The Savory took to the local farmers market and bought the ripest fruit we could find. We stocked our kitchen with all of our favorites: raspberries, blackberries, strawberries, peaches, plums, apricots, nectarines, cherries and even cherimoyas. Next, we hit our local source food market and gathered three different types of vinegars: a sweet red wine vinegar, a coconut vinegar and a banana vinegar. You can use whatever vinegar you like. We suggest an apple cider vinegar or white balsamic, as they are easy to find and delicious in a shrub. Finally, we made sure we had plenty of sugar on hand.

The Process:

There are a few ways to make a shrub. The most effective and flavorful is also the most true to the original process. Decide what flavors you are going to use to make your shrub fit your tastes. Cut the fruit, quartering larger berries and pitting any fruit with seeds. Measure and place the fruit into a bowl; we used 1 cup of fruit. Next take an equal amount of sugar, in our case 1 cup, and dump over the bowl of fruit. Cover the bowl with a cloth or plastic wrap and now leave it alone for a minimum of 3 hours and up to 3 days. The bowls are fine with or without refrigeration. If you want to stay true to the original process, obviously, refrigeration is not an option. When left to sit (you can stir throughout the process if you would like) the sugars will extract the juice from the fruits and create a sort of fruit syrup in your bowl. 

Once you decide your fruit and sugar has sat long enough, uncover the bowl and add in an equal amount of your chosen vinegar to the mix. We, again, used 1 cup of vinegar to the 1 cup of fruit and 1 cup of sugar. Stir in the vinegar using a whisk until the sugar has completely dissolved into your liquid. Next, grab whatever you are going to use to store your shrub, we used a mason jar, and strain out all of your fruit chunks while pouring your shrub into your jar. What should remain is a vinegar and sugar based fruit syrup, the consistency of a simple syrup. The best thing about the shrub is it is now shelf stable. The science involved in your shrub is amazing, and without getting too Mr. Wizard on you, the vinegar and natural yeasts will find a natural balance within a week or two and your flavors will become much more harmonious and mellow. In shrub talk (which, by the way, will also be our new band name), we call this entire process the “Cold Process”, which stays true to its predecessors.

Cheat Method:

There is also a cheat method referred to as the “Hot Process”, in which we take all of our ingredients: 1 cup of fruit, 1 cup of sugar and 1 cup of vinegar, stir them together in a saucepan and bring to a boil. We experimented with this process and though it is much quicker, the results are not as flavorful, not as mellow and decidedly not as bad-ass. 

The Shrubs:

Here are some of the shrubs The Savory made. They turned out even better than we could have imagined and we will be imbibing shrub cocktails all summer here at The Savory Headquarters.

Cold Process Shrub #1: 1/2 cup Cherries, 1/2 cup Plums (both pitted and quartered) , 1 cup Sugar, 1 cup Golden Balsamic Vinegar

Cold Process Shrub #2: 1/2 cup Peaches, 1/2 cup Apricots (both pitted and quartered), 1 cup Sugar, 1 cup Coconut Vinegar

Cold Process Shrub #3: 1/2 cup Raspberries, 1/2 cup Blackberries, 1 cup Brown Sugar, 1 cup Apple Cider Vinegar

Cold Process Shrub #4: 1/2 cup Strawberres, 1/2 cup Cherimoya (pitted and quartered), 1 cup Sugar, 1 cup Banana Vinegar

Hot Process Shrub: 1 cup Mixed Fruit from above recipes, 2 sprigs Rosemary, 1 cup Sugar, 1 cup Aged Red Wine Vinegar

We’ve armed you with plenty of ideas to make shrubs your summer go-to. Now its time to take to the kitchen and shrub away. Instagram your shrub process and show us what you’ve made @thesavory then check out our Shrub Cocktail recipes and how-to videos.


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