How To Make A Shrub, A.K.A. The Secret To Cocktails That Taste Like Summer

It's a fancy name for "drinking vinegar," but don't run away just yet.

When I think of summer shrubs, I'm overcome with dread. I envision hours spent under the burning hot sun on my parents' lawn, balancing precariously on the top rung of a ladder while wielding a chainsaw trimmer. Thankfully, this is not that kind of shrub. This one is refreshing, it usually involves alcohol, and it requires very little physical labor, so ... NO CONTEST.

Maybe you've had a shrub before (they make a mean shrub at The Library at The Public in New York) or maybe you haven't, but here's the gist: a shrub is a fancy name for a "drinking vinegar." Don't run away just yet. As Martha Holmberg explains in the summer issue of Sweet Paul Magazine:

Shrubs started as a household practicality. Back before refrigeration, fresh fruit would spoil quickly, but you could extend its life by piling it into a big crock with some sugar. The juice that came off the fruit was redolent with the bright flavor of the fruits in the crock, and after a few weeks it would ferment into vinegar.

In the modernized version below, however, you just add vinegar to your sweetened fruit rather than actually letting it ferment. You can make it with any fruit you want, add any herbs or spices you want, and mix it with whatever type of spirit or sparkling drink you want. It's basically a choose-your-own-adventure, no-rules type of recipe, perfect for scofflaws and anarchists.

So you see, the concept of a "shrub" is the base of the delicious-looking cocktails you'll find below (one is virgin, two are not). Sweet Paul Magazine has generously provided us with one incredibly versatile formula for a summer shrub that you can use in just about any application you can imagine, from drinking it shot-style to treating it as a cocktail mixer. Once you make a shrub, it'll last several months in your refrigerator. So go make the most of that summer produce and get a shrubbin.'

How To Make A Basic Summer Fruit Shrub
Ellen Silverman/Sweet Paul Magazine
This method will work with any ripe, soft fruit, such as berries, peaches, nectarines, and apricots. Depending on the sweetness of the fruit, you may want to add a touch more sugar to taste.

Makes about 1 1/2 pints
1 lb fruit
1 lb sugar (white cane sugar is the most versatile, but you could use a turbinado or muscovado sugar if you want a more caramel taste)
1 pint vinegar (white wine vinegar, apple cider vinegar and sherryvinegar are delicious)
other flavorings (optional; see page 113 for ideas)

1. Sort through your fruit to remove any leaves or moldy bits.
2. Rinse the fruit if it’s dusty; for stone fruits, peel, pit, and roughly chop.
3. Pile the fruit in a large bowl, add the sugar, and toss together.
4. Cover the bowl with a clean cloth and let sit at room temperature for at least 2 hours, but preferably overnight. Give the mixture a stir once in awhile.
5. Line a colander or large strainer with cheesecloth and set it over a wide-mouth jar or another clean bowl.
6. Ladle the fruit and juices into the colander and strain the juice into the jar below; press on the fruit solids to extract as much juice as possible.
7. Mix the sweetened juice with the vinegar.
8. Taste the shrub—it should be quite tart, but pleasantly so. Stir in more sugar or vinegar to get the flavor you want.
9. If using other flavorings, add them now. They’ll infuse into the finished shrub as it sits.
10. Pour the shrub into clean bottles or jars and seal.
11. Store in the refrigerator indefinitely.
And the recipes to use it with ... Raspberry Gimlet With Lavender & Rosemary
Ellen Silverman/Sweet Paul Magazine
Makes 1 drink
2 oz gin or vodka
1 oz raspberry shrub
soda water
4 to 5 fresh raspberries
sprig of fresh rosemary
lavender blossom

1. Fill a wide rocks glass with ice.
2. Add the gin or vodka and the shrub, and stir to mix.
3. Top with a splash of soda water and garnish with the raspberries, rosemary, and lavender.
Peach & Bourbon Sour
Ellen Silverman/Sweet Paul Magazine
Makes 1 drink
2 oz bourbon
1 oz peach shrub made with muscovado sugar
1 teaspoon lemon juice1/2 egg white, lightly beaten

1. Put all the ingredients into a cocktail shaker or a jar and shake vigorously until the egg whites are foamy.
2. Add some cracked ice and shake another 30 seconds.
3. Strain into a pretty cocktail glass.
4. Top with a Johnny Jump Up or other edible flower.
Blackberry Refresher With Lemon & Thyme
Ellen Silverman/Sweet Paul Magazine
Makes 1 drink
2 oz blackberry shrub
soda water
pared lemon zest, wide piece
sprig of fresh thyme

1. Fill a tall glass with ice.
2. Add the shrub and top with soda water.
3. Twist the lemon peel over the top and drop in the drink.
4. Garnish with thyme.

All recipes and photos courtesy of Sweet Paul Magazine.

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