How to Make a Cocktail Shrub or Drinking Shrub for Cocktails

Written by Christopher Menning | August 25, 2021

a pile of blueberries for a cocktail shrub recipe

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Cocktail Shrub Recipe

Let’s Shrub it up! I always love making shrubs. There’s something rustic and farm like about being in the kitchen making juicy libations and letting them sit on the shelf to marinate.

Once a colonial shrub drink recipe they can now be found in many cocktail bars around the world and are made in the same process as a sugar syrup recipe by simmering the fruit, sugar, and water together.

Vinegar is then added to the syrup once cooled. The common ratio for a heated process is 1:1:1:1 of fruit, sugar, water, and vinegar. For a cold process Shrub, you can leave out the water and increase the ratio of sugar and vinegar to make 1:2:2. 

Read through below to learn about some of the science behind this drink so you can make the best shrub recipes for summer.

Cocktail Shrub: Choosing Your Vinegar

Vinegar is an acetic acid solution created through fermentation. The are many sources ranging from fruit to alcohol. 

The acid content is generally around 5-20% and the flavour options can be quite surprising. When choosing which vinegar to use in your shrub recipe, think about how your fruit will pair with the flavour of the vinegar you choose.

Apple cider vinegar is a great option, but white or red wine vinegar, rice vinegar, Champagne vinegar also work very well. 

A young Balsamic is perfect for berry shrubs and adds an amazing depth but you won’t need as much as normal. It’s worth noting that Kombucha, a fermented beverage of tea is also a slightly acidic and effervescent liquid that can be flavoured and used for the purpose of cocktails. 

Although we will go into this in another article. The types of vinegar that can be used for shrubs are detailed below.

Apple ciderVinegar made from fermented apple juice. The malic acid from the apples gives it a great taste. It is hailed for its medicinal and weight loss benefits, but these claims are not scientifically backed up. 
BalsamicBalsamic vinegar is highly concentrated, dark and intensely flavoured vinegar made wholly or partially from grape must in Italy. The true traditional product is only made in the provinces of Modena and Reggio Emilia. The thick syrup from pressed grapes is then transferred to wooden barrels for ageing for a minimum of 12 years using the solera system like Sherry. 
Red, White and ChampagneWe all know that the microorganism ‘yeast’ creates alcohol as a by-product from eating sugar, but it’s actually a secondary fermentation from a bacteria called Acetobacter that makes Acetic magic.

What Sugar to Use for a Drinking Shrub

Usually, basic refined cane sugar is the first choice. White sugar is great for all shrub recipes to enhance your fruit flavour. We recommend using it to perfect your technique.

Don’t be afraid to branch out into other sugars though once confident as brown, maple or agave can add another dimension to your Cocktail Shrub.

We wouldn’t recommend Molasses however as it would be too sweet.

Choosing Your Fruit, Spices, Herbs & Vegetables

Fruit and Veg

Shrubs are great all year round and can be made with all types of fruit and veg. Keep things seasonal so berries and peaches in summer to carrot, grapefruit and red cabbage in winter.

When it comes to hardy veg and fruit the heated process of making your shrub is best to extract the flavour. 

A great idea to source your ingredients would be to ask farmers for produce that isn’t going to market, you know all those gnarly looking ones?

Well, they still have the same taste so are perfect for your drinking vinegar. For citrus fruits go for a cold infusion and peel first. In the same process of making an oleo Saccharum rub the peel in the sugar to release the essential oils. 

Then throw in the rest of the fruit.

Spices

Spices like fresh ginger or whole peppercorns, cardamom and bay leaves add incredible complexity to a sometimes simple recipe. Use a hot process for most due to their hardiness. 

The heat will better extract the core flavours.

Herbs

Herbs are a great way to add a secondary flavour and add a freshness to the beverage. Leafy Mint and Basil are always good options but are Thyme and Rosemary.

Herbs tend to be very delicate so cold infusions are recommended. This is particularly true for leafy herbs that release chlorophyll under high heat, which is bitter in taste.

Best Cocktail Shrub Ideas

When deciding which fruit, herbs, and spices to pair think about natural flavour pairings

Below are some of our favourite flavour combinations to play around with and to get you started.

Ginger & rhubarb + White Sugar + Cider Vinegar

Pear & Anise – + Demerara Sugar + White Wine vinegar

Carrot & Cinnamon – + Honey + Cider Vinegar

Blueberry & Vanilla + White Sugar + Red Wine Vinegar + Splash of Balsamic Vinegar

We use Niki Segnet’s The Flavour Thesaurus book for inspiration on great combinations.

Hot or Cold Shrub Process

For a cold process Cocktail Shrub, slice or gently mash your fruit in a mixing bowl or jar and toss the sugar in.

Cover the bowl with a dish towel and let it sit in a cool dark space for around 2 days. keep an eye on it and give it a stir once or twice a day. 

After two days strain off the juice that has formed into a measuring cup and discard the fruit.

Combine with equal parts of your chosen vinegar and add slowly, tasting as you go. Once you are happy with the zingy taste then pour it into your Kilner Bottle or jar and stick it in the fridge.

For a hot process Cocktail Shrub, start by making a simple syrup, equal parts sugar and water in a saucepan over low heat. Keep stirring until all sugar has dissolved.

 Add your fruit and other ingredients and let simmer for a while, until the syrup changes colour and the fruit looks tired.

Bring the heat down and add the vinegar stirring it into the mixture. strain off the shrub and pour it into your Kilner Bottle or jar and let it cool before placing it in the fridge.

How to Store Your Cocktail Shrub

Store your Shrub in a sterile container preferably a glass bottle that can be easily stored and with a cap for easy access.

If kept in a fridge, Shrubs can last for a long time because the natural fermentation is stopped by the preservative effect of the vinegar and sugar.

We recommend keeping for up to 3 months but some can last for a lot longer.

Keep an eye on your shrub and if you see any bubbles forming or hear hissing when opening the bottle then it’s time to throw away and make a new batch.

We use this pack of 1 litre Kilner bottles for all our infusion making as they are sturdy and perfectly stackable in the fridge.

strawberry shrub in bottle
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Strawberry & Basil Drinking Shrub

This delicious and easy to make drinking shrub is made with fresh strawberries and basil, a classic combination.
Prep Time5 mins
Active Time20 mins
Cooling Time10 mins
Total Time35 mins
Course: Drinks
Cuisine: Shrub
Keyword: Homemade, Shrub
Yield: 700 ml
Author: Christopher Menning
Cost: £5

Equipment

  • Saucepan
  • Spoon
  • Kilner Bottle
  • Funnel
  • Muslin Cloth

Materials

  • 50 g Basil Leaves
  • 200 g Strawberries
  • 300 g White Sugar
  • 300 ml Water
  • 300 ml Apple Cider Vinegar

Instructions

  • Cut your strawberries into quarters.
  •  Add the sugar and water to the pan over medium heat.
  • Stir until the sugar has fully dissolved.
  • Turn the heat down to a lower setting and add the strawberries to the syrup. 
  • Keep stirring so it remains just below a simmer for 10 minutes. 
  • Add vinegar and continue to simmer for 5 mins.
  • Add the basil leaves for the last couple of minutes on a low heat as the flavour quickly dissipates under heat.
  • Once you’re happy with the flavour of your shrub, strain through a twice-folded muslin cloth into a sterile container or your clean bottle.
  • Put syrup into a clean bottle and wait for it to cool down before placing it in the fridge.

Conclusion

Now you have your Cocktail Shrub recipe it’s time to drink it! Shrubs add great natural acidity to your beverage and can be used in a number of ways. 

Simply add it to a soda or seltzer water with ice for a refreshing Mocktail or add some whiskey or vodka for a boozy, fruity, summer sipper.

Another great way would be to make your classic sour cocktails a bit jazzed up by replacing the sugar syrup and some of the lemon juice for your shrub.

If you liked this article why not head over to our next guide on how to make a Fat Wash at home. 

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