Perhaps you’ve noticed that the word “shrub” has recently been sprouting up on cocktail menus across the country. OK, we apologize for the bad pun, but in all seriousness, shrubs are tart syrups made from fruit, sugar and vinegar, and they’re quickly becoming a favorite of bartenders.
The ingredient’s history goes back hundreds of years, when it was employed as a method of preserving fresh fruits in colonial America, but its balance of sweet and sour is a perfect foil for spirits—and it can be used in a surprisingly wide range of drinks.
At their most basic, shrubs are extremely simple to prepare: Just heat up sugar and vinegar until the former dissolves, pour over some cut-up fruit and let stand for a while. That was the lesson we learned from Scott Dolich and Nate Smith, the chef and head bartender, respectively, of Park Kitchen in Portland, Ore., during their session about using culinary techniques behind the bar at this year’s Portland Cocktail Week. Smith’s Pear Shrub couldn’t be easier (and the leftover pears make a gourmet breakfast with granola and yogurt), but the complex Pear With Me cocktail it goes into is deliciously full of flavor.
Fruits with a lot of acid are another good candidate for shrubs. Brett Hughes of New York watering hole Saxon + Parole uses tangerine peels and apple cider vinegar for its Tangerine Shrub, which it features in the bubbly and refreshing Tangerine Collins (pictured above).
A different Big Apple bar, Empellón Cocina, even creates a spicy Tomatillo Shrub. The establishment’s beverage director is well-known mixologist Naren Young, and this recipe was dreamed up by his bartender Lana Gailani. It’s served alongside shots of tequila as sort of a cross between Sangrita and a Pickle Back. It just may be our new favorite eye-opener.
So what are you waiting for? It’s time to go out and buy some vinegar.
.5 oz Demerara syrup (one part Demerara sugar, one part water)
Add all the ingredients to a shaker and fill with ice. Shake, and strain into a rocks glass filled with fresh ice.
*Pear Shrub INGREDIENTS:
8 oz Cider vinegar
4 oz Water
.5 cup Sugar
1 tsp Salt
1 lb Pears, cut into cubes
Add the vinegar, water, sugar and salt to small saucepan and bring to a boil over high heat. Pour the mixture over the pears in a bowl. Let cool completely and refrigerate for up to 4 days. (The longer it infuses, the more pear flavor the shrub will have.) Strain before using.
Contributed by Brett Hughes INGREDIENTS:
1.5 oz Gin
1 oz Tangerine Shrub*
.75 oz Lemon juice
Garnish: Lemon wheel and candied orange or tangerine
Fill a Collins glass with ice and add the gin, shrub and lemon juice. Top with club soda and stir briefly.
*Tangerine Shrub INGREDIENTS:
Peels of 6 tangerines
1 bunch Fresh thyme
2 cups Sugar
5 oz Apple cider vinegar
Combine the tangerine peels, thyme and sugar in a small saucepan and let stand for 48 hours. Add the vinegar and heat over medium-low heat, stirring until the sugar dissolves. Add additional vinegar or sugar to taste. (The finished shrub should be on the sweeter side.)
Contributed by Lana Gailani INGREDIENTS:
32 oz (1 qt) Apple cider vinegar
1 lb (just over 2 cups) Sugar
2 lb Tomatillos
2 Jalapeño peppers, seeded
Combine the vinegar and sugar in a saucepan and heat, stirring, until the sugar dissolves. Add the tomatillos and jalapeños, and let stand for 24 hours. Pour into a blender and blend on high for 30 seconds. Strain through a chinois or fine strainer and serve with shots of tequila.