Nowadays, cocktail bars all around the nation are bustling with shrubs. We’re not talking about the cute little greenery lining their outdoor patio seating. We’re talking about the shrubs that sit in little bottles atop bars across the nation, in between the array of bitters and fruit garnishes. You may see the word shrub and automatically think it must be something botanical, and be surprised to see it in a bar context. So with regard to the cocktail world, what the hell are shrubs?
Serious Eats describes shrub syrup as “an acidulated beverage made of fruit juice, sugar, and other ingredients.” Basically, a shrub is a sweetened vinegar-based syrup from which a cocktail can be crafted. Sometimes referred to as “drinking vinegar,” it can be infused with various juices, spices, and herbs in cocktail creation. The word probably derives from the Arabic word sharab, which means “to drink.”
The shrub syrup was a way to preserve fruit way beyond its pickling. The acid within a shrub can come from either juice or vinegar; every recipe is different. Basically, sugar and acid preserves the fruit juice, and alcohol is always optional. A classic shrub is a perfect balance between tart and sweet, working to stimulate the palate, invigorate your appetite, and satisfy your thirst.
Shrub syrup mixed with cold water was a popular beverage in America centuries back. In fact, making at-home shrub syrup is quite painless. Simply add equal parts sugar and water to a saucepan and heat until sugar is dissolved. Add fruit (berries work particularly well) and let the juice integrate into the syrup. Let the mixture cool, then add vinegar. Add an alcohol of your choice (optional, though why would you not!?) and bottle the mixture. Keep in the refrigerator to store and crack open on a warm day for a mouthwatering, delicious treat! Use fresh, seasonal fruit to make shrub all year round.