Simple methods for making tasty mixers.
No, no. Not that kind of shrubbery. I’m talking about the kind of shrub that you can drink.
Confused? Historically, there are two types of liquids referred to as “shrubs”: the first is a slightly acid cordial made from sweetened fruit juice and water, while the second is a drink made of sweetened fruit juice and liquor, typically rum or brandy.
In both cases, the sugar, acid, and optional alcohol were used to preserve the fruit juice. Shrubs date back to 15th-century England and were originally based on the medicinal cordials of the time. But shrubs, unlike medicinal cordials, were simply intended to preserve fruit long past its picking.
This English practice carried over to colonial America and eventually morphed into a process that used fruit-infused vinegar mixed with sugar or honey to make sweet-and-sour syrup. Though the syrup could be mixed with water or soda water, it was often used as a mixer in alcoholic cocktails in 19th-century America.
With the advent of refrigeration, shrubs fell out of use, but the past few years have seen a shrub revival. They are acidic, tangy, and sweet, and they make great mixers.
If you would like to try your hand at making a shrub or two, there are two simple methods: the hot method and the cold method. Whichever method you use, no special tools are required, and the only ingredients are fruit, sugar and vinegar.
Soft and relatively squishy fruits are the best type to use for syrup making. Think berries, peaches and plums. Even rhubarb and apricots work. As for the sugar and vinegar, take your pick. Try starting with basic refined cane sugar and white vinegar, or, if you’re feeling more adventurous, branch out to brown sugar or apple cider vinegar.
Before beginning either method, wash and prepare the fruit. Most berries can be lightly crushed, but if you’re using strawberries be sure to hull and quarter them. Stone fruits (such as peaches, plums, apricots and cherries) should be quartered and pitted.
The hot method is the simpler of the two. Add equal parts sugar and water to a saucepan. Heat and stir until the sugar dissolves to form syrup. Add the fruit and let it simmer until the fruit’s juices have blended into the syrup. Let the mixture cool, strain out the fruit chunks, and add vinegar. Store in a bottle in the refrigerator.
Though the cold process takes longer, the fruit flavor remains purer. Put the prepared fruit in a large bowl and cover it with an equal amount of sugar. Mix the fruit and sugar together, cover the bowl, and refrigerate. Leave it to sit for a few hours or days—the longer it sits, the more flavorful the syrup will be. During this time, the sugar draws the juice out of the fruit to form syrup. When you’re ready to continue, strain out the fruit chunks, add vinegar, and whisk the mixture until the remaining sugar dissolves. Bottle the finished mixture and store it in the refrigerator.
Once you have more experience making your own shrubs, expand your repertoire by using multiple fruits or by adding herbs and spices. You can drink a shrub by itself, but, as mentioned before, they make excellent mixers. Since shrubs are both tart and sweet, they can be used as an alternative to bitters in cocktails or as an aperitif.