The first time I ever had a shrub was at Rocco’s, an amazing pizza and cocktail joint in Seattle we found while on our honeymoon. I had heard of shrubs but hadn’t tried one yet, so I ordered this darling little DIY cocktail from their shrubs menu with an apple-cinnamon shrub and whiskey.
There was something so charming about being able to mix to my own preference of proportions (the self-checkout of ordering drinks). The twee glassware didn’t hurt either! But after one taste I fell in love. The tart kick of the vinegar in a shrub just lights up your mouth. It’s the sour beer of cocktail mixers. If you love sour beer or even Beaujolais wine, you’re going to be into shrubs.
A Girl’s First Shrubs
It was August 2015 that I first tried a shrub; by November I was ready to tackle my own. In case you missed it, I don’t cook, so I have to be creative about contributing to food holidays. For Thanksgiving, I threw myself into making shrubs for everyone to enjoy.
Not one to do anything halfway, I started with two: a cinnamon-orange shrub and a pear-ginger shrub. Of these, the cinnamon-orange turned out vastly superior. The pear shrub never really arrived at the same potent flavor profile. Pear has a more delicate flavor anyway, but the lack of “juice” that can be extracted from the fruit itself is to blame. You see, there are two ways to make a shrub. You can do a hot shrub, heating vinegar and your flavor infusion together on the stove then let it sit. (Boring.) Or you can do a cold shrub where you let sugar pull the juicy goodness from your fruits first. Then you mix in the vinegar and let everything marinate together for a while.
Obviously, I prefer the cold version because it is more interesting and science-y. For the orange and pear shrubs, I followed standard shrub protocol: chop up fruit, cover it in sugar, let it sit for 2 – 3 days (shaking vigorously and often), sieve out the fruit chunks from the syrup you’ve created, mix in vinegar and any other flavorings, let sit.
So, returning to my earlier point, the juiciness of an orange being far greater than the juiciness of a pear, the resulting shrubs reflected the juiciness of their sources. The pear turned out perfectly drinkable, but it didn’t have the whiz-bang of the orange-cinnamon shrub. By the way, once finished, the orange-cinnamon shrub was fantastic with both spiced rum and whiskey. Highly recommend.
Shrubbery: Level 2
From there, I made another set of shrubs for my Christmas party: cranberry-sage and blueberry-ginger. The cranberry-sage shrub held so much promise! I imagined a savory, tart companion to prosecco or ice-cold gin. Sadly, any hint of sage fell under the shadow of the cranberry. It turned out a beautiful blood-red and was a delight with sparkling wine at the party, but it ultimately tasted more of a cranberry syrup than an artisanal shrub.
The blueberry-ginger surprised and delighted in a different way. Here, the ginger was ready to stand up to the big blueberry flavor. Unlike my other attempts, I decided to grate and throw in the ginger with the blueberries during the sugaring process. (Just made up that term. Running with it.) I believe that getting the secondary flavor component in earlier amped up its presence in the final result. The finished shrub was so good that it didn’t even need mixing with booze to shine. I have enjoyed this one over several months just mixed with fresh lemonade or a can of lime Perrier.
I’ve been pretty surprised by how long this guy has lasted me. I bought a few nice bottles from Amazon to store the shrubs in, and I strongly recommend you do the same. Because the final consistency of a shrub is very similar to that of maple syrup, a wide mouth jar is not ideal for pouring from. Shrubs stay good forever, so you might as well be looking at a pretty bottle in the fridge rather than yet another mason jar!
She Shrubs Again
As the holiday season approaches, I am ready to dive back into shrub-making. Having established a trend of making two at a time, I’ve decided to tackle a cherry-vanilla shrub as well as a ginger-lime shrub. (Now you may be thinking, “Claire. You put ginger in half of your shrubs. What gives?” To which I would reply, “Yes of course I do. Ginger is the greatest.”)
This year my cousin is pregnant so I’m hoping the cherry-vanilla shrub, in particular, will serve as a nice non-alcoholic treat when mixed with sparkling water. It’s hard to provide great mocktails but, as I hope to need them sometime in the future myself, it’s worth a little effort to ensure something for everyone.
I’m blending a couple of recipes for the cherry-vanilla shrub and applying some of my learnings thus far. Having discovered with the blueberry shrub that frozen fruit makes absolutely no difference in the final result, I used frozen cherries from CostCo and coated 4 cups of cherries with 1 cup of sugar and 2 tablespoons of maple syrup. I let this sit for 24 hours then threw in some balsamic vinegar to get things started, along with a split whole vanilla bean.
This marinated for about 48 hours and smelled heavenly. I opened it up to mash the cherries a few times and to check the consistency. It finished at a perfect tartness, quite syrupy, and full of big, balanced cherry and vanilla flavors. We found that this mixed perfectly in equal parts with bourbon (over ice). I also made up the recipe below to pair it with spiced rum:
- 1.5 oz spiced rum (I use Sailor Jerry)
- 1.5 oz cherry vanilla shrub
- .5 oz sweet red vermouth
- Club soda to fill
- Mix the rum, shrub, and vermouth together in a cocktail shaker over ice. Pour into tall glass half-filled with ice. Top with club soda and drink with a straw.
- So named as a variation of a "Palmetto," which is made of dry vermouth and rum. Since here we are mixing it with sweet Italian vermouth, Palmezzo seems appropriate.
I modified this recipe from The Cocktail Whisperer to use up a few more limes (six instead of four). I also cut back a bit on the ginger because the limes just smelled so good I wanted to keep them the star. Zesting with our microplane right over the jar accumulated an impressive mountain of zest really quickly. This already smells amazing so I can’t wait to finish it off and enjoy!