Shrubs and How To Use Them

Shrubs and How To Use Them

Friends, it’s been a minute. Or a month, more accurately. My apologies.

Today we’re talkin’ shrubs. What they are, how to make ’em, how to use ’em. And I found some nice old pictures of fruit to go along with them. A recipe for a raspberry shrub is at the very end of this long post, but the content of the post provides valuable context and foundational rules for making them, so I suggest reading it!

To give credit while I still have you, before you skip the history lesson, a lot of this information is taken from the book Shrubs by Michael Dietsch. It’s up there in the running for my favorite bar book, because of its narrow, deep scope.

A Brief History

Shrubs, in the modern parlance, are basically sweetened, flavored vinegar for drinking. Usually they’re flavored with fruit, though I tend to entertain a broader definition that allows for flavoring with things like miso, or with herbs or what have you. The word shrub is derived from the Arabic šarba, or drink, and has referred variously to things resembling lemonade, oleo saccharums, vinegar drinks, syrups, the list goes on. An Iranian drink called Sharbat, derived from the same root word, is still served and popular throughout Iran, the Balkans, Turkey, and South Asia. All of that is to say that it’s a big family of drinks, and that they go back a long time. Dietsch suggests in his book that the vinegar fed to Jesus on the cross may in fact have been a shrub of some sort; conjecture which is confounded by the murkiness of time and translation. True or not, however, it’s a pretty good story.

Watercolor by Kaspar Hauser

Shrubs proliferated in Colonial America as a means to preserve fruit nutrients and flavor, and were mixed with water to make a refreshing beverage. With this purpose in mind, let’s talk about makin’ shrubs.

Making the Dang Thing

Pick a fruit, dang near any fruit. I chose raspberries because I had some that were going to go bad. Along with your fruit you’re going to need sugar and vinegar. That’s it!

An excellent starting point for a shrub is to measure out two parts fruit to one part each sugar and vinegar. I measure my shrubs by weight, but if you don’t have a scale just measure by volume. It’s your drink, do what you want.

Your mileage may vary, of course, based on the fruit you use, the sweetener you use, personal taste, etc. That said, 2:1:1 has generally served me well. The bowl above has 130g of raspberries because, well, I had 130g of raspberries.

130g raspberries macerating with 65g sugar

Here we have 65g of sugar added to the raspberries. From here, mash ’em up and let them sit for a day or two. The sugar will wick the moisture from the berries. Add your vinegar (another 65g for those following along at home), stir it up, and strain it. Shrub complete. Mine is still macerating right now, so no pictures of the finished product yet. It looks like a red syrup. Once it’s done, I’ll update this post. For now though, use your imagination.

Once it’s all mixed up, a shrub will last in the refrigerator for a very long time. I hesitate to say indefinitely, but I’m yet to have one go bad on me.

What To Do With ‘Em

Anything you want! For the teetotalers among us, shrubs are the perfect bedfellow of soda water, and for those bon vivants a dash with sparkling wine is further delightful.

Lambrusco and a watermelon shrub

For cocktails, shrubs can be a little more finicky. They add sweetness, acidity, and the modifying flavors of whatever fruit you chose. Suppose you are making a gimlet using the following spec:

Gimlet

  • 2 oz gin
  • 1 oz lime juice
  • 3/4 oz simple syrup

Simply replacing either the lime or simple syrup with a shrub would make an unbalanced drink, as would adding the shrub on top of that recipe. Instead, it would be more suitable to modify the recipe like this:

Raspberry Shrub Gimlet

  • 2 oz gin
  • 1/2 oz lime juice
  • 1/2 oz raspberry shrub
  • 1/2 oz simple syrup

As with all ingredients made with fruit, the recipe may require adjusting depending upon your particular shrub. Make some cocktails, and experiment. If I have to twist your arm, I will.

Hokkaido Sour, featuring a honey-miso shrub

Get creative with shrubs. Above is a shrub made with honey, red miso, PX sherry, and rice vinegar. It’s light and savory, and could make a pretty passable salad dressing in a pinch. The recipe can be found on the recipes page.

At Long Last, the Recipe

Raspberry Shrub

  • 200g raspberries
  • 100g sugar
  • 100g apple cider vinegar

Combine sugar and raspberries in a bowl and crush with a fork. Mascerate overnight or until the sugar has wicked moisture out of the berries. Whisk in vinegar, and strain. If necessary to better combine sugar and vinegar, rinse the mixture over the strained pulp several times. Voila!

Happy shrubbin.

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