Drink Your Shrubs
An old-fashioned favorite, shrubs have steadily made a comeback in the last several years — especially on cocktail menus
Before we begin, a toast to new approaches! 2020 seems to be the year for such endeavors, so this month we spin around to look backward and find ourselves in the present. I, too, am trying new things and modalities. I am writing this article in the middle of the night in my backyard, sipping a lemon-lime shrub amid the shrubs, instead of on my porch. I am also trending toward teetotaling at times, perhaps more than before. This unbibulousness brings us to shrubs.
I had almost forgotten about shrubs until I had rhubarb shrub from Hannah at Trillium Farm to Table in Laconia on a 90-something-degree summer day. I got one to go during a delivery run, along with a slice of delicious olive oil zucchini bread. The interplay of the tart from the vinegar with the green freshness from the rhubarb was a perfect tonic for the day. Yes, vinegar. Traditionally, at least 500 years ago, “sharab” was a popular drink in Persia. It was both a method and a product — fruit was muddled with sugars, and the resultant syrup was preserved with vinegar (creating a semi-shelf-stable product), then added to water to create a refreshing beverage. Some wealthy households enjoyed candy confections made to dissolve in water. This is where we get not only the word shrub, but also syrup and sherbet. Shrubs enjoyed a revival in Colonial America, where they were often mixed with rum or brandy, and again in the early 2000s with the craze of craft mixology.
I consulted with Jeremy Hart of Industry East (and formerly of The Birch on Elm), opening soon at 28 Hanover St. in Manchester, about cocktail recipes with shrubs. He made me my first shrub cocktail a few years back, and he was on point again.
All of the proportions are subjective. If you prefer more sweetness, use more sugar. Much of my research came from “Shrubs” by Michael Dietsch (a great read as well as a good resource), and he suggests a basic ratio of fruit/sugar/vinegar at 2/1/1 by volume, but different recipes call for different ratios. I suggest experimenting with different vinegars — champagne or white wine is good to complement delicate flavors like citrus, but red wine or even malt might work better with richer flavors like fig or mint. I currently have several batches in the fridge, including apricot/raspberry with white wine, lemon/lime with champagne, and rhubarb with a touch of molasses and a good amount of Lyle’s golden syrup for some butterscotchy notes.
Until we meet again, at a bar or in my backyard, keep your glass full.
3/4 cup white wine vinegar
3/4 cup cider vinegar
3/4 cup sugar
11/2 teaspoons Maldon sea salt
Purée cukes in a blender and press through a fine strainer into a medium bowl.
Combine juice with all other ingredients in a mason jar, shake and then refrigerate for a week.
The Cocktail: Another Shrubbery
11/2 ounces tequila
1 ounce cucumber shrub
5 ounces fresh lemon juice
Stir all ingredients in a highball glass with ice and top with plain seltzer.