Drinking Vinegars aka Shrubs are quite popular these days in craft cocktails. They're a great way to introduce an acidic element to a drink and have added health benefits that come with the use of vinegar.
Mind you, using vinegar in a libation is not a new concept. Back in colonial days vinegar shrubs, which are shelf stable at room temperature, were all the rage with colonists with a thirst and no refrigeration. Shrubs, used as a method to preserve fruits in Frigidaire free America, were consumed with and without alcohol by none other than George Washington, Ben Franklin and John Adams, who most likely added a bit of vinegar shrub to those nasty, impure rums of the day.
Using a simple method of combining fruits with sugar and vinegar, the tart and sweet shrubs, also called drinking vinegars, were a thirst quenching alternative to drinking brackish water and they mixed pretty well with the wines and ales of the day as well.
Vinegars not only preserve fruits, they help preserve water. Historically used on ships to purify the water stores, vinegar was also used as far back as ancient Rome and Greece for medicinal purposes. Drinking vinegars are good for you.
A while back I experimented with using vinegar in cocktails in my Strawberry Balsamic Martini
and made a few drinking vinegar syrups for mixing a quick mocktail for non-alcoholic drinkers, but, thanks to a gift of assorted Rice Wine Vinegars from Marukan
, I recently got the shrub bug again.
Why are they called shrubs? I'm not all that sure but the word "shrub" is a variant of the word "shurb", which is from the Arabic word sharāb meaning "to drink". There is also the word sharbat, a Hindi word for drinks based on syrups made from fruit extracts. Shrubs are not confined to fruits either, you can make herbal shrubs and veggie shrubs. Imagine some kale or beets in a shrub!
There are several ways to make a shrub, including various hot and cold methods, but for your first go round use this simple recipe from Eric Felten's "How's Your Drink?"
For mine I simply replaced the white wine vinegar with Marukan Rice Wine Vinegar which adds a bit more sweetness:
Strawberry Shrub Syrup
PLEASE DRINK RESPONSIBLY
1/2 C. Sugar (I used regular cane sugar but feel free to experiment with turbinado or other fancy sugars.)
1/2 C. Water
2 C. Strawberries
1 C. Marukan Rice Wine Vinegar
Bring the water and sugar to a boil in a sauce pan, stirring until the sugar is dissolved.
Reduce your heat to simmer, add the strawberries and cook for 20 minutes, stirring occasionally. You want the final syrup to resemble a cordial so reduce enough to stand up to the addition of the vinegar.
Add the vinegar, raise the heat and return to a boil for an additional 2 minutes.
Remove from heat, strain, and allow to cool then store in the refrigerator.
(As an aside, you might think about doing these outside on a grill burner as the last step wafts a good dose of vinegar smell about!)
I then repeated this recipe with blueberries, plums, dried cranberries, watermelon and blackberries. For the blackberry shrub I used brown sugar to get that molasses taste and used Marukan's Sweet & Tangy Rice Wine Vinegar just for a giggle. Whatever vinegar (rice wine, apple cider, white, balsamic, champagne), sugar, produce, you use keep in mind the wine edict, "if you wouldn't eat it or drink it, don't cook with it" and use quality ingredients!
You can add herbs, even peppercorns and other natural flavor enhancers, to your shrubs, which I would add at the same time as the berries, but I chose not to do this (except with the watermelon to which I added some apple mint leaves*) so I could pick the herb I wanted at the time I mixed the cocktail or drink. I might be in the mood for basil one day or tarragon the next so why box myself in?
WHY BOTHER MAKING SHRUBS?
The advantage of vinegar shrubs is their shelf life, you can always have some fruit on hand to add to a cocktail no matter the time of year or your proximity to a fruit vendor. Additionally, shrubs are a perfect way to add balanced acidity and sweetness to a cocktail with one ingredient, kind of like customized sweet & sour mixes. Sure, you can buy shrubs too, thanks to their rising popularity many artisnal shrubs are popping up on the commercial market, but when they're this easy why not let your own culinary creativity off it's leash?
Basic Alcohol Shrub Cocktail:
1 -2 Oz. Shrub Mix/Syrup
2 Oz. Spirit
4 Oz. Club Soda or other sparkling non-alcoholic beverage. (I haven't tried sparkling wines here yet. That waits for another day.)
You can leave out the soda and drink this shrub as a cordial. Leave out the spirit too and you have yourself an old fashioned medicinal palliative.
Basic Non-Alcoholic Shrub Drink:
1 Oz. Shrub Mixture
3-4 Oz. Club Soda (Yes, you can use non carbonated waters ad well.)
BTW, I've discovered my shrubs are GREAT for salad dressings!
Try these Drinking Vinegar Cocktails:
BLUEBERRY SHRUB COCKTAIL
PLUM PERFECT SHRUB COCKTAIL