For many of us, the first time we heard of a shrub outside of the garden center was on a cocktail menu.
For me specifically, it was a drink at a craft distillery that listed ginger shrub as one of its ingredients. The cocktail had the spicy bite of the ginger, but also a sweet, tartness that I couldn’t quite figure out.
That was the evening I learned about the existence of drinking vinegars, or shrubs as they are more commonly known.
But what exactly is a shrub?
These sweet and tangy syrups are fruit and vinegar-based drink mixers used to create delicious beverages of both the alcoholic and non-alcoholic variety.
And they are dead easy to make.
You only need three ingredients to create a shrub: vinegar, fruit, and sugar.
Let’s pick apart drinking vinegars by their ingredients to help you achieve the perfect sweet and tangy combo.
The first thing you want to decide on is your fruit.
Berries make excellent shrubs; their natural acidity compliments the acid in the vinegar. Raspberries, blueberries, strawberries, they all make excellent shrub candidates.
Fruits like apples, pears, or peaches also make for a delicious shrub. Just be careful when choosing a milder fruit not to overpower it with your choice of vinegar pairing.
And as I found out when sampling my first, ginger makes an amazing shrub too. I always have some in my fridge to use when I’m making switchel or one of my favorite cocktails.
You can use any vinegar you wish to make a shrub, but some are better than others, and some were just made to go with certain fruits.
While plain white vinegar seems like the obvious choice, it’s a bit on the dull side. You can use it, of course, but there are so many more exciting options.
Apple cider vinegar, red or white wine vinegar. These are excellent choices, especially if you can get them with the mother. You’re going to get a more complex flavor with these types of vinegar, rather than white vinegar.
Balsamic is a great choice too, but be careful if you are using a light-colored fruit. You may want to opt for white balsamic vinegar or mix a small amount of regular balsamic with another vinegar, so you don’t get an unappetizing muddy-colored syrup in the end.
Here is where you generally want your ‘plain white’ option. Good ol’ plain white sugar works best for most shrubs. It allows the fruit and vinegar to really shine, bright and clean.
You can use brown or raw sugar of course, but it’s going to have a heavier taste and can possibly affect the color depending on your fruit and vinegar choice. That being said, some flavor combos just beg for that dark brown sugar, like apples with apple cider vinegar!
Now that you have a better understanding of what you are going for with each ingredient it’s time to start dreaming up flavor combinations!
• Strawberry with balsamic and red wine vinegar
• Blueberry with white balsamic vinegar
• Peach with white wine vinegar
• Ginger with apple cider vinegar
• Pineapple with champagne vinegar
Your shrub recipe is the same for nearly all fruits.
• 2 cups of fruit, rinsed and chopped if larger than a small berry
• 2 cups of vinegar
• 1 ¾ – 2 cups of sugar
• 2-quart mason jar with lid
• Optional flip-top style bottle to store finished shrub in
Add the fruit to the mason jar. Put the two cups of vinegar in the saucepan over medium heat. Heat the vinegar to just below boiling. Remove the vinegar and pour over the fruit in the mason jar making sure to completely submerge the fruit in the hot vinegar.
Once the jar is cool enough to handle, screw the lid on tightly, shake it well, and put the jar someplace cool and dark. A cupboard is a good spot. You can let the fruit and vinegar sit for as little as 24 hours up to two weeks. The longer you let it sit, the more intense the flavor you’ll get.
When the mixture has aged for the desired amount of time, strain the liquid from the fruit pulp. Lay the cheesecloth over the saucepan and pour the fruit and vinegar into it. Tie up the cheesecloth into a little bundle and suspend it over the pan with a spoon and leave it to drain for an hour or two. Or if you’re impatient like me, you can gently squeeze the bundle with your hands.
Once you’ve extracted as much of the liquid as possible put the saucepan over medium heat and add 1 ¾ cups of sugar. Heat to just before a simmer stirring constantly. You don’t want it to boil or you will end up with jelly. Remove your shrub from the heat and taste a bit cooled off on a spoon. If you want it a little sweeter add the rest of the sugar, stirring it in until it dissolves completely.
Let your shrub cool before transferring it into a clean mason jar or flip-top bottle. Depending on how juicy your fruit is, this recipe will give you around three cups of shrub. Capped tightly and stored in the fridge your shrub will last you about six months.
Making ginger shrub
A note on making ginger shrub—it’s easiest to halve the vinegar and sugar when making a ginger shrub, and you only need a ¼ cup of finely minced ginger per one cup of vinegar/sugar.
If you are using organic ginger, just rinse and lightly scrub your ginger before mincing it. Non-organic ginger is almost always irradiated, so you will need to peel it before mincing it.
Add a decent splash to a glass of club soda. This is my favorite way of enjoying shrubs. My boys call them “fancy sodas.”
Add them to your favorite standard cocktails to change them up a bit. Shrubs make a wonderful addition to lemonade and iced tea; raspberry shrub gives a nice pop of pink. Give your hot apple cider a boost with a splash of ginger shrub in the winter.
Drinking vinegar can be used to make salad dressings too, and are even quite delightful drizzled over vanilla ice cream. I’m looking at you peach and balsamic shrub!
If you store them in a pretty flip-top bottle, they make a very easy, yet impressive gift for the foodies or budding mixologists in your life. Bring a bottle of homemade shrub for the host at the next party you attend.
With as easy as it is to make fruit shrubs, you’ll soon have a refrigerator full of delicious fruit and vinegar combinations to create fun sodas and classy cocktails!