While shrubs have been around for hundreds of years, if not longer, their presence in cocktails is a relatively new phenomenon for modern bartenders. Shrubs are, essentially, a potable vinegar, and are a terrific addition to a drink because of the complexity they bring, with a good balance of sweetness and acid.
The beautiful thing about shrubs is that there are only two rules: something sweet and something acidic. From there, your imagination can run wild. Typically some variety of sugar does the heavy lifting, but maple syrup offers a perfect hit of character and complexity in this recipe from Casey Elsass, the founder of Bushwick Kitchen, a company that produces hot sauces, maple syrup and honey. And although the beets maybe seem like an odd or unnecessary addition, they actually keep the sweetness in check with a welcome earthiness. Similarly, mustard seed may seem an unorthodox ingredient, but the flavor is subtle and adds an extra bit of tang and richness.
Once your shrub is ready (the longer you let it sit, the better), it’s a fantastic mixer in a variety of cocktails, including these three favorites: the Shrub Julep, the Shrubarita and the G.C.S. Adding a splash to a sparkling wine of your choice or substituting the Maple Beet Shrub for simple syrup in drinks like a Bourbon Old Fashioned can also work well. Really, it’s best to play around with it, trying what works, what doesn’t and what is surprisingly good with a bit of earthy shrub in it.
The other benefit of shrubs is that they make for an excellent non-alcoholic drink that isn’t just another juice or sugary soda. The easiest way to serve a booze-free drink with shrubs is by simply mixing them with club soda and letting their natural flavors shine.
- 4 medium beets
- 1 1-inch piece of ginger, peeled and thinly sliced
- 1/2 teaspoon mustard seeds
- 1 bay leaf
- 1 cup apple cider vinegar
- 1/2 cup maple syrup
- 1 teaspoon kosher salt
Peel the beets - cut each into eight wedges, and add to a 1-quart jar along with the ginger, mustard seeds and bay leaf.
In a saucepan, combine the vinegar, maple syrup and salt with 1 cup of water. Stir to combine and bring to a boil over medium heat. Pour enough liquid into the prepared jar to cover the beets and let cool to room temperature.
Refrigerate for at least 12 hours and up to 2 weeks, shaking the jar every few days to distribute the flavors. Makes 1 quart.