In the drink world, a shrub (or drinking vinegar) is a concentrated syrup that combines fruit, sugar, and vinegar. Apple cider vinegar is the most common base for shrubs, and herbs and spices are often added to create interesting flavor combinations. This sweet, acidic mixer can be enjoyed with still water or soda or used in various mixed drinks.
You can buy premade shrubs or make them yourself. Homemade shrubs are inexpensive and let you explore all of the flavor possibilities to create custom drinks.
How to Drink Shrubs
Similar to switchels, many people enjoy drinking shrubs as a way to enjoy the health benefits of apple cider vinegar in a tasty beverage. They can stand alone in drinks when topped with either cold water (as was customary in early America) or clear sodas such as club soda or ginger ale.
For an easy-drinking beverage, combine one ounce of shrub with five to six ounces of water or soda over ice.
Shrubs have become a popular cocktail ingredient and add a fresh zing to mixed drinks. Bartenders are crafting their own and using them in creative new cocktail recipes. With one exception, they're quite versatile: Since shrubs are acidic, it's best to avoid mixing them with citrus and other highly acidic fruits.
The best way to experience shrubs is to experiment:
- Apple shrubs are popular and mix well with mezcal, tequila, vodka, and whiskey.
- Pair an apple-fennel shrub with a shot of bourbon and a splash of ginger beer.
- Try a cranberry-fig shrub with aged rum, ruby port, and ginger ale.
- The daiquir-ease recipe uses a homemade blueberry shrub made with apple cider vinegar and agave nectar.
- The pear and pomegranate Champagne shrub recipe begins with a homemade pear and ginger shrub that uses an apple cider vinegar base.
How to Make Shrubs at Home
Making your own shrubs is easy, and the flavor possibilities are endless. The process is similar to making simple syrup or homemade infusions, and there are two methods: cold and warm.
With either approach, the first step is to choose at least one ingredient from each of the following categories to create your custom shrub:
- Sugar: As with simple syrup, you can experiment with the type of sugar. One may work better with a particular fruit-vinegar combination than others. White granulated sugar is perfectly fine to use. Some shrub makers prefer raw sugars like turbinado or demerara or even regular brown sugar.
- Vinegar: The majority of shrubs are made with apple cider vinegar or red wine vinegar. Some use balsamic vinegar. While distilled white vinegar is fine, the extra flavors of the other options are preferred.
- Fruit: Berries are a favorite shrub fruit, though you can use almost any fruit. Apples, figs, pears, plums, and even cucumbers or rhubarb are good options.
- Extra Flavorings: Herbs and spices add dimension to shrubs and are an optional ingredient. Basil, fennel, peppercorns, rosemary, and thyme are just a few that regularly appear in shrubs.
It's typical for shrubs to use two cups of fruit with two cups each of vinegar and sugar (this ratio can be adjusted to taste). Add herbs and spices to taste; one tablespoon is a good place to start with most ingredients. This will yield a nice amount of shrub for experimentation and quite a few drinks. Once made, store shrubs in the refrigerator for up to six months.
When deciding which herbs and spices to pair with a particular fruit, think about natural flavor pairings. For instance, strawberry and basil work great together, and apple is very nice with either ginger or rosemary.
Hot Process Shrubs
The hot method is the most popular way to make a shrub. Some people prefer to begin by making a simple syrup of water and sugar, then add the vinegar after cooling and just before bottling.
- Heat equal parts of sugar and vinegar on the stove, constantly stirring until the sugar is dissolved.
- Add fruit and any herbs or spices and simmer for about five minutes to release the juices and flavors into the syrup.
- Remove from the heat and cool the mixture.
- Strain out any solids through a double layer of cheesecloth.
- Bottle into a clean glass jar and allow it to rest in the refrigerator for two to four days before mixing into drinks. You can add more sugar or vinegar to taste.
Cold Process Shrubs
Many shrub makers experiment with cold process shrubs. While there are a few different approaches you can take, this is a basic method:
- Add one part each of fruit and vinegar, along with any herbs and spices, to a jar with a tight-fitting lid.
- Shake vigorously for about 20 seconds. Allow it to infuse at room temperature for about one week, giving it a good shake once a day.
- Strain out the solids through a double layer of cheesecloth and pour into a clean glass jar with a tight-fitting lid.
- Add one part of sugar and shake until it is completely dissolved.
- Refrigerate for about one week (more or less time to taste), and add more sugar or vinegar if needed to taste.