The Shrub Life: Make Your Own Cocktail Shrubs
Bursting with the vibrant flavors of fresh produce and herbs, the name of this must-have of the craft cocktail scene isn't derived from the landscape fixture, but likely comes from the Hindi word “sharbat,” which is a syrup flavored with fruit and herbs or flowers. In the 18th century, the combination of fruit juice, sugar and vinegar gained attention as a refreshing way to preserve the harvest by using the acidity of vinegar to create a shelf-stable fruit syrup that could be stored without spoiling. In those days, shrubs were popular as both a sipping beverage and a medicinal, but the old-fashioned tonic has gained new life as mixologists have embraced the shrub as a bottle-friendly way to bring bold flavor to craft cocktails.
Shrubs can be added to water or soda to create tangy and refreshing drinks using your favorite fruits, but shrubs get more attention these days when used to add complexity to mixed drinks. Although shrubs may be purchased commercially, they are expensive and few can compete with the fresh flavor and style points one gets from crafting homemade shrubs using garden-fresh ingredients chosen especially to complement your favorite drinks.
There are different methods for making shrubs. All are easy and each has its appeal. A “hot process” shrub, made by cooking fruit and sugar in vinegar is fast and effective, but flavor is sacrificed. Infusing vinegar with fruit and adding sugar later provides a flavored vinegar that can be used for things other than shrubs until the sugar is introduced. To achieve full, deep flavor, though, we prefer a cold-processed shrub, in which the liquid and flavor of the fruit is drawn out by coating the produce with sugar and allowing it to rest at room temperature until it has broken down into a rich, flavorful syrup. It takes a little longer, but the results are worth it. Try this recipe for a basic cold-processed shrub by pairing your favorite fruits with a complimentary vinegar or try one of the shrub suggestions at the bottom of the page to get started.
Basic Cold Processed Shrub Recipe
- 2 cups fresh fruit
- ¼-½ cup fresh herbs (optional)
- 1-½ to 2 cups sugar
- 2 cups vinegar of your choice (red wine, apple cider, champagne, etc.)
Wash fruit, discard bruised or discolored fruit and chop into 1- inch pieces, as necessary.
Place fruit and herbs (if using) in a one quart Mason jar and use a wooden spoon to lightly mash and muddle.
Add sugar to jar, cap with a lid and band and shake to fully combine.
Allow to macerate 12-24 hours, shaking the jar occasionally to help fruit break down.
Once liquid sugar have combined into a syrup, use a fine sieve or a colander lined with cheesecloth to strain out solids.
Return syrup to jar and add vinegar.
Cap jar, shake and allow to rest in a cool, dark place.
After 3 or 4 days, taste and add vinegar or sugar, as desired, to balance flavor.
Shrub is ready to enjoy after around 7 days, but the flavors will mellow even more over time. Transfer into a resealable bottle or leave in Mason jar with lid to store.
Use in your favorite cocktails or combine with carbonated water to serve.
Homemade shrubs can be stored for 6 months or longer in a cool, dry location without significant loss of color or flavor.
Peach-Basil: 2 cups chopped peaches, ½ cup fresh basil leaves, 2 cups sugar, 2 cups apple cider vinegar
Balsamic Blueberry: 2 cups blueberries, 1-½ cups sugar, 1-½ cups balsamic vinegar
Watermelon-Mint: 2 cups watermelon, ½ cup fresh mint leaves, 2 cups sugar, 2 cups white vinegar
Blackberry: 2 cups blackberries, 1-½ cups sugar, 2 cups red wine vinegar
Tomato-Peppercorn: 2 cups chopped tomato, 1 tablespoon black peppercorns, 2 cups sugar, 2 cups red wine vinegar
Pineapple-Jalapeno: 2 cups pineapple, 2 chopped jalapenos, 1 ½ cups sugar, 2 cups cider vinegar