How to Make a Cocktail Shrub. A step by step guide with recipe.

christopher menning

By Christopher Menning

The word shrub actually derives from the Arabic word ‘sharab’, which means to drink. The Cocktail Shrub, or drinking vinegar, that bartenders use were popular in America during the colonial period. It is a pleasant mix of vinegar, fruit, and sugar and the variations that can be used are quite exciting.

Modern times have seen a huge revival in the thirst-quenching mixture. And its use as a non-alcoholic beverage or low alcohol cocktail has spurred its popularity. The acidulated fruit juice is as easy to make as all the other recipes and open to interpretation on flavour. 

There really is no wrongdoing on this one. Just choose at least one component from these four categories and you are ready to go: Sugar, Vinegar, Fruit, and Extra flavour – herb, spice, etc.

 

History of the Cocktail Shrub

“Shrubs were also used frequently in the colonisation of the Americas when British settlers traveled the pacific.”

Drinking vinegar has been around for centuries even dating back to ancient history where dates and vinegar would be mixed with their water to make it safe to drink. Prior to refrigeration, the fruit was preserved in barrels of vinegar to preserve them for long journeys.

The fruit-infused vinegar which was known as the ‘shrub’ drank for medicinal purposes, as people believed shrubs could cure disease and revitalize the heart.

Maritime sailors during the 15th-century commonly suffered Scurvy caused by a lack of Vitamin C so the fruit packed shrub was thought to fight the disease.

During the 17th and 18th centuries, Shrubs became even more popular when mixed with liquor usually a mix of Rum with sugar or honey added for sweetness.

Shrubs were also used frequently in the colonisation of the Americas when British settlers traveled the pacific.

With the invention of refrigeration, the use of Shrubs slowly declined as the need to preserve fruit with vinegar also fell. By the late 1800’s the Shrub became settled to just a Christmas time beverage combined with sherry, rum raisins, and lemon.

Thankfully we are now seeing a resurgence in Shrub recipes. With their versatile flavour combinations and acidity, they are perfect for unique cocktail recipes or to spruce up a mocktail.

Because of their significant health benefits, they have become a healthy alternative to fruit juice and sodas. 

How to make a cocktail shrub?

Shrubs are now 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.  

how to make a shrub infographic

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 flavor 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.

Choosing your sugar

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 and vegetables​

a pile of spices for shrub recipe
a pile of blueberries for shrub recipe

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

 

 

Good shrub combinations

When deciding which fruit, herbs, and spices to pair think about natural flavour pairings. We use Niki Segnet’s The Flavour Thesaurus book for inspiration on great combinations.

Below are some of our favorite 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

 

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 dishtowel 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’s 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 its time to throw away and make a new batch. 

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

 

Cocktail Recipes at Home Ebook

In our Cocktail Recipes at Home E-book, we listed a number of homemade syrups, shrubs, and infusions. Below is one of our favorite Shrub’s from the book, which is delicious and super easy to make!

 

50 recipes

50 easy recipes you can make at home, including shrubs, syrups, infusions and fat washes.

Download to your phone or laptop

Easy to read on all devices.

Words from the Experts

Hear from Bacardi Legacy winner Chelsea, World Class winner Gov and internationally renowned bartender Nico de Soto on how to make infusions.

How to Store Your Cocktail Shrub

Store your Shrub’s 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 its time to throw away and make a new batch. 

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

 

strawberry and basil shrub recipes

Strawberry & Basil Shrub

Storage: Keep for up to one month

Ingredients

  • 50g basil leaves  
  • 200g strawberries
  • 300g sugar 
  • 300ml water


Directions 

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

 

 

Time to Drink your Shrub!

Now you have your Cocktail Shrub recipe it’s time to drink it! Shrubs add a 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 ovet to our next guide on how to make Fat Washes at home. 

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