Cocktail or Mocktail: Preserve Fresh Fruit as a Sippable Shrub

Got a bumper crop of berries? Lucky you! Learn how to turn fresh fruit into a centuries-old sip: a shrub, or drinking vinegar, that can be enjoyed as either a cocktail or an alcohol-free restorative. And, bonus, because shrubs rely on the juice extracted from fruit, you can use very ripe and even overripe fruit for maximum fruity flavor.

May 05, 2022

Photo by: Sarah Busby; Styling by H. Camille Smith

Sarah Busby; Styling by H. Camille Smith

Materials Needed

  • 5 cups of diced strawberries (approximately 2 pounds)
  • 5 cups sugar
  • 5 cups vinegar of your choice (we used red wine vinegar)
  • booze of choice: Our favorite is bourbon
  • mixer of choice: sparkling water, club soda or seltzer
  • optional: sub sparkling wine for sparkling water and skip the bourbon
  • lidded glass container for macerating fruit overnight
  • potato masher, fork or large spoon
  • mesh strainer or cheesecloth
  • lidded glass bottles or jars
  • self-adhesive labels and permanent marker

So, What Is a Shrub?

While "shrub" may seem like an odd name for a drink, they’re actually one of the oldest beverages around (with documented examples as early as the 17th century) and they can be enjoyed either with or without alcohol. Also known as drinking vinegar, Europeans first, then Americans, added vinegar to fruit syrup to create a refreshing add-in for either still or sparkling water. Topped with a splash of your favorite liquor or liqueur, the simple shrub becomes a refreshing cocktail. And, bonus, unlike other fruit preservation processes like canning, shrubs don’t require cooking or any special equipment.

Photo by: Sarah Busby; Styling by H. Camille Smith

Sarah Busby; Styling by H. Camille Smith

1. Prep Fruit

Wash fruit and set aside to dry. Cap and cube strawberries, cutting the fruit into small pieces to create more surface area to draw out juice (Image 1). Slide diced fruit into a measuring cup to determine how many cups you have (Image 2). For instance, we chopped up 2 pounds of strawberries to create 5 cups of diced fruit.

What is maceration? Essentially, it’s the easiest way to draw juice and flavor out of soft fruits. Just chop ripe fruit into small pieces, cover with sugar, then refrigerate overnight or up to 48 hours, stirring occasionally to create a flavorful, sweet syrup.

2. Macerate Fruit Overnight or Longer

Place cut strawberries in lidded glass container and top with an equal amount of sugar. Thoroughly stir so berries are evenly coated with sugar. Cover with lid and place in fridge overnight (or up to 24 to 48 hours) to allow the fruit to macerate — softening the fruit and drawing out juice to create a thick, sweet syrup. Tip: Macerated fruit is not only delicious in cocktails, it’s also a flavorful topping for ice cream and pound cake.

Photo by: Sarah Busby

Sarah Busby

3. Crush Berries to Release More Juice

Remove the now juice-filled container from fridge and stir to dissolve any remaining sugar crystals (Image 1). Using a potato masher, fork or large spoon, crush berries to release even more juice (Image 2).

4. Strain to Remove Fruit Solids

Strain the now super juicy macerated berries through a mesh strainer or cheesecloth to remove the remaining strawberry bits (Image 1). Use a large spoon to press on the fruit solids to draw out every bit of the delicious juice (Image 2). Set the remaining berry bits aside to use in baked goods, like muffins, or as a sweet stir-in for yogurt. Measure to be sure but you should have the same amount of syrup as you had in diced berries. For instance, we started with 5 cups of diced strawberrries, which yielded 5 cups of sweet, sugary syrup.

5. Add Vinegar and Bottle for Storage

Add an equal amount of any flavor vinegar of your choice (Image 1). For instance, we used 5 cups of fruit + 5 cups of sugar + 5 cups of vinegar. Note: We tested this recipe with both red wine vinegar and organic apple cider vinegar and preferred the milder flavor of the red wine vinegar, but you can use any vinegar you happen to have on-hand. Pour strawberry syrup into sterilized glass jars or bottles (Image 2). Be sure to scrape in any undissolved sugar — the vinegar will help to further break down the remaining sugar.

6. Label and Refrigerate Again

Your newly mixed shrub is fine to drink immediately, especially if you aren't a fan of vinegar and prefer less tangy drinks. But allowing the vinegar and sweet juice flavors to further combine and mellow for a week will create a less sweet, more tart finished product, so most shrub fans wait a week before drinking. Use a permanent marker to create a label for your shrub, being sure to include the date. Refrigerated, your shrub should last up to six months thanks to vinegar’s preserving properties. (If you don't drink it long before then, that is!) To help the vinegar further break down any remaining sugar, give the bottle or jar a shake every few days. Around day 3, you can sample your shrub to see if you’d like to add a bit more vinegar for a tangier finished product. After a week, the sweet-meets-tart flavors have fully combined, and your shrub is ready to be savored as it has been for centuries.

Photo by: Sarah Busby

Sarah Busby

7. Mix Up a Non-Alcoholic Mocktail

Like so many beverages, this is one you mix to taste — adding more or less of the shrub syrup to ice-cold sparkling or still water till you find your perfect ratio. But to get you started, here’s the ratio we used: To an ice-filled glass, we added 1/3 strawberry shrub mixture to 2/3 sparkling water. Because the shrub syrup is so flavorful, you can also add it to other beverages, too — try stirring a little into a glass of iced green or herbal tea.

Photo by: Heather Baird; Styling by H. Camille Smith

Heather Baird; Styling by H. Camille Smith

8. Or, Turn It Into a Boozy Bevvy

Truly versatile, shrub syrup will pair perfectly with your liquor or liqueur of choice. As bourbon and whiskey fans, this was our favorite alcoholic addition, in part because a nice bourbon adds the perfect smoky-sweet finish (Image 1). Start with the basic ratio: 1/3 shrub mixture to 2/3 sparkling water, then add a boozy splash or two (we won't tell!) to taste.

Photo by: Sarah Busby; Styling by H. Camille Smith

Sarah Busby; Styling by H. Camille Smith

9. Move Over, Mimosas

If you're a fan of sparkling wine cocktails, like Mimosas, Bellinis or Kir Royale, you're going to love mixing a splash of shrub syrup into your favorite sparkling wine of choice — whether Champagne, Cava or Prosecco. Garnish with a whole strawberry and fresh rosemary for a deliciously toast-worthy twist.

10. Add to a Gift Basket

Once your friends and family try shrubs, they're going to be devotees, too. When bottling up a batch for yourself, make a little extra syrup to give as gifts. Paired with a savory snack, sparkling water and a favorite spirit, this is one gift any shrub fan will love receiving.

Photo by: Heather Baird; Styling by H. Camille Smith

Heather Baird; Styling by H. Camille Smith

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