What’s a shrub? In the bar and beverage world, a shrub is a drinkable vinegar–based mixture of fruit and sugar. They’re usually diluted with water or sparkling water and poured over a liberal amount of ice. Shrubs were a standard refreshment before the days of bottled sodas and mixers and they’re making a delicious comeback.
Shrubs are easy to put together, and a bounty of seasonal fruits and herbs are all the invitation you need to try one out. Don’t be put off by the idea of quaffing vinegar: Its astringency is mellowed by sugar, fruit and time, developing a flavor more akin to citrus than to vinaigrette. Shrubs will keep for a month refrigerated so don’t be afraid of making up a big batch, especially if you’re facing a glut of seasonal produce.
Try this Blackberry-Lavender Shrub as a starter recipe, but feel free to substitute other fruits you have on hand for the blackberries, and other herbs or spices for lavender. Some classic combos are strawberries with thyme, peaches or apricots with rosemary, plums with peppercorns, cherries with mint, pears with ginger, and pomegranate with cloves. Just about any very ripe fruit is ideal, and remember that you can adjust the sweet/sour balance to your taste: You might start with half the amount of suggested vinegar and add more as needed, remembering that the sharpness will mellow over time.
Simple syrup is another staple you can keep on hand for creating homemade beverages. In its basic form it’s just sugar and water that’s been boiled until the sugar dissolves and the mixture is clear and thick. This recipe for Simple Syrup includes a hint of rosemary and grapefruit, but lemon, orange, ginger, vanilla, star anise, and herbs like mint, thyme or lavender are ideal. Since the sugar is already dissolved, it mixes effortlessly into cold beverages. It’s an ideal sweetener for everything from ice tea to lemonade to cocktails.
Inspiration for using a shrub or syrup isn’t hard to find, but here are a cool dozen ideas to get your started.
Make lemonade or limeade with a citrus- or mint-infused simple syrup in place of sugar.
Drizzle a shrub over very finely crushed ice for a delicious variation on the snow cone.
Use an herbaceous simple syrup as a sweetener for iced tea.
Pour a teaspoon or two of shrub into a champagne flute and add sparkling wine.
Combine a shrub or flavored simple syrup with vodka or gin and add a splash of club soda.
Shake whiskey, ice and a berry shrub together in a cocktail shaker; add a squeeze of lime and garnish with mint.
Use a red shrub (strawberry or pomegranate) in place of grenadine in a tequila sunrise.
Substitute a shrub for vinegar in salad dressings.
Add a splash of shrub to a butter-based pan sauce for a flavor boost.
Brush cake layers with a flavored simple syrup before your fill and frost a layer cake.
Drizzle fresh fruit salad with a flavored simple syrup or shrub.
Brush pear or peach halves with simple syrup before broiling for extra caramelization.
Got our own take on shrubs and syrups? Tell us about it!