Sunset Cocktails: The Art of the Shrub

Oh how I love the sound of ice tinkling in a cocktail glass at the end of a long summer day. As the sunlight casts longer shadows and the heat of the day shimmers the last of its intensity, who could resist a cold glass of sweet elixir that perks up the tongue and mellows the soul.

I was first intrigued by shrubs, or drinking vinegars, after reading an article about Pok Pok Wing. Alan Ricker of Portland, OR fame, opened a small shop in Brooklyn serving his delicious Thai food, and also sells shrubs by the name Som. The description of a “refreshing drink with a nice tartness coming from the vinegar and concentrated flavors of fruit, vegetable and aromatics” got me intrigued immediately. I am a huge fan of aromatics such as bitters and how they can turn a languid sweet drink into a snappy upstart of a cocktail. Just a dash to add bright top notes to the tongue, and an invitation to the nose.

Shrubs have a long history and show up in recipe books before the time of Ben Franklin. The sugar, alcohol and vinegar act as a preservative thereby allowing one to make and store a shrub to then offer a drink at any moment, “…’Tis a pretty wine and cordial. For each tot of rum add a double tot of shrub. At the end of the evening everyone was cordial!” {from The Innkeeper and Butler’s Guide, published in 1808} Shrubs can be a compound of many different fruits, herbs and flowers, and the process couldn’t be simpler.

Strawberry Rose
Shrubs have a terrific shelf life and make a fantastic hostess gift as you head to the beach or to a friend’s home this season. Who wouldn’t love you for bearing nectar? A slug of shrub mixed into basic cocktail ingredients can turn the ordinary vodka tonic into something wildly special- or for those abstaining- it can add perk to that glass of Perrier making one feel like a part of the party without the booze.
There is a cold and a hot method of extracting the flavors from your aromatics. I chose the former, which is far easier and much more conducive to summer life. It takes absolutely no effort at all to mash up some fruit with sugar and then allow it to macerate on the counter overnight. The sugar draws the juice and flavor out of the fruit resulting in a thick sweet syrup that takes absolutely no effort to make. Because the fruit needed to make the syrup need not be the best of the bunch, this is a great way to use some of those too many peaches or berries you couldn’t resist buying but couldn’t eat fast enough. The next afternoon a quick strain, a balancing of vinegar, and then straight into the bottle.
Blueberry Mint
My head is spinning with all sorts of combinations, but I became enamored with the thought of blushy pink drinks. Something pretty and soothing that would be wonderful at a wedding, or bridal shower, or just a soft pink to compliment the fading summer sky. Strawberries and blueberries were my fruit of choice, but the recipe can be adapted to any fruits you have around.
For those not as intrigued as I am by the thought of vinegar in a drink, I also made a beautifully refreshing watermelon cocktail. I truly love watermelon juice in my cocktails, though because this is not a shrub, it must be consumed within a day or two.
watermelon
Fruit Shrub Recipe
 
Combine equal weights of crushed fruit with white sugar in a bowl and leave on the counter for at least 24 hrs to macerate.
 
You may add herbs or other aromatics to your shrub at this point.
 
Strain the solids from the juice through a sieve, pressing out all the juice, and discard the solids.
 
Measure the volume of the syrup and stir in half that volume of cider or balsamic vinegar- or to taste.
 
My versions:
 
Strawberry and rose water: I added 2T of rose water to each cup of shrub
 
Blueberry Mint: fresh blueberries were crushed with whole sprigs of mint
Strawberry Rose Cocktail
serves one
 
Over ice, pour 3T of Gin
2T of strawberry rose shrub
1T of simple syrup
 
Stir together, then top off with sparkling water
 
 
Blueberry Mint Cocktail
serves one
 
Over ice, pour 3T vodka
2T blueberry mint shrub
1T simple syrup
 
Stir together, then top off with sparkling water
 
 
Watermelon Cooler
serves one
 
To make watermelon juice, put chunks of melon into blender and puree. Personally I don’t like mealy watermelon juice so I strain mine through a fine strainer. I find watermelon juice not sweet enough on it’s own, so I add in 1T of agave or simple syrup to each cup of juice.
 
Over ice
 
3T of vodka
2T cointreau
4oz sweetened watermelon juice
splash of sparkling water
 
 
Simple Syrup
makes 1.5c
 
combine 1 c of sugar with 1c water in saucepan.
 
Over medium high heat bring to boil, then turn off heat.
 
Allow to cool. Store in refrigerator.
 
 
_____________________________
 
Thank you for coming by and reading my recipes.
I would love to hear how you are sharing with your friends.
If you have any questions or just want to say Hi, Please feel free to send me a note.
 
astackofdishes@gmail.com

{Day 10} Homemade syrups: Fizzy Water Surprises

Homemade syrups for soda and cocktail making

As a birthday treat to myself this year I purchased a soda making device that has been a lovely addition to my life. Years ago I used to get old fashioned glass seltzer bottles delivered to my door once every two weeks. It was a bit decadent but I just loved that wooden box by the front door that held blue and clear glass bottles. The guy that ran the business was a bit of a character too, and it was always fun to hear about his past weeks antics. Those days, and the Seltzer Man are now past and gone- so now enter my newest toy.

 

I will admit that I am not a plain seltzer water gal. I like a little zip or somethin’ somethin’ with my bubbles, and a slice of lime is just not quite enough for me.
I love the notion of homemade ginger ale or root beer. Kinda makes me want to sit at a counter on a stool and drink from a straw while swinging my legs. The beauty of homemade syrups is that they are great for kids or the non drinkers in your life- I would have LOVED something interesting to sip when I was pregnant for instance.

The other beauty is that added to some booze flavored syrups also work for the imbibing crowd. A little splash of syrup over some chilled vodka can mean a Schmancy Martini in a flash. When entertaining I’ve made a row of several different types to syrups with suggestions and let my guests play around. A great conversation starter and more interesting than the usual.

The soda maker company sells syrups, but why not make your own? Fresh made syrups don’t last as long as the store bought ones, so unless you’re giving them away, make them in small batches and store in the fridge.
Blueberry Thyme Syrup
makes ~ 3 c
 
4c Blueberries, may use frozen berries
juice of 1 lemon
1 bunch of thyme
2.5c sugar
 
Wash and crush berries in a medium saucepan. Add lemon and thyme and simmer for 10 minutes
 
Strain juice from the solids through a seive pressing down on the berries to remove as much juice as possible.
 
Return the juice to the pot and add sugar.
 
Simmer for another 10 minutes.
 
I strain a second time through a paper filter to remove any seeds etc., cool before bottling.
 
Keep bottled syrup in the fridge
 
Ginger Ale Syrup
makes ~ 3c
 
.5c peeled and chopped fresh ginger
3 c sugar
3c water
 
Combine all in a heavy bottomed saucepan and simmer for 20 minutes.
 
Strain the ginger and cool before bottling.
 
Keep bottled syrup in the fridge
 
Fresh Mint Syrup
makes ~3 c
 
3c water
1 bunch fresh mint leaves rough chopped
3c sugar
 
Combine water and leaves in a saucepan.
 
Bring water to a boil then turn off heat. Allow leaves to steep until cool.
 
Strain leaves and return the tea to the pot. Add the sugar
 
Bring back to the boil for 2 minutes and remove from the heat.
 
Cool before bottling and store in the fridge.

{Day 7} Good Cheer: The Gift of Fine Drinking

Cocktails on the ready! If you’ve been following along you would have heard me refer to a few drinks a comin’ and now here they are. The beauty of these is that the two above are made from the residual syrups made from previous gifts. Ginger Lime Syrup from the Candied Ginger and Cowboy Cocktail is made from the syrup of the Cowboy Candy.
What I’ve done here is take those leftovers and added a thing or two and some booze and made the base of two delicious cocktails. Now all your loved one has to do is add some ice, some lime and a splash of soda or tonic, and they are good to go.
When I first made Cowboy Candy I was left with a pretty fair amount of syrup, perhaps about a quart. It was in the early Fall and it just called out tequila and lime to me. The syrup has not only a heat kick that is fierce, but the vinegary sweetness adds a tremendous balance to the tequila and lime. I’ve been reading a lot lately how bartenders are now finding balsamic vinegar into their cocktails and I now understand why. I invite you to try this just for the experience.
The Ginger Lime Syrup also has a pretty dynamic kick to it too. As a fan of Dark and Stormy’s this is a fantastic syrup to use for that. There is enough sweetness in it to avoid the ginger beer and just add rum and club soda. But I also like Gin and Ginger Tonic, which I did here.
Just be sure to label your concoctions and provide a recipe for the proper ratios.
I just think giving someone ready made cocktails for two can be a real treat for the right person. Especially when you’ve already done most of the work for them.
I also created a Chamomile Cordial, which I paired with biscotti. This came out of my love of Chamomile Grappa which I had the good fortune to have at the end of an outstanding meal at Babbo, Mario Batali’s Restaurant here in NYC. Chamomile is long known for is digestive properties but pairing it with grappa is unusual. The only company that makes it is in Italy and it’s not easy to come by here. The  chamomile grappa has a soft mellowness, a slight sweetness to it and the gorgeous aroma of the flowers. I’ve served this to querying guests after a dinner party and so far everyone has been an immediate fan.
Though since not everyone is a grappa fan, as it’s next of kin is rocket fuel. Grappa is made from the remaining “mash”, or skins and seeds, after grapes have been pressed for wine. It’s distilled and fermented and this clear alcohol can be intense in that “oh my goodness this is burning my throat” sort of way. So for those less into rough drink, I created mine with vodka, which turned down the volume a few decibels while still offering a swift kick.
Personally I love to sip it after a big meal or an especially long hard day. I suppose you could make a cocktail of it, but I’m not thinking that way. If you come up with something, please let me know- I’d be curious to see what creations could be made of this.
Gin and Ginger Tonic
 
If you’ve made the candied ginger and reserved the syrup than bravo! but if you haven’t, or need a fresh batch here’s how to start.
 
Take 2c of peeled and sliced fresh ginger and put into a heavy saucepan with 2c of water and 2c of white sugar. 
 
Bring to boil on the stove and then simmer for 30 mins. You can then remove the
 ginger and dry it and candy it {recipe here} or not.
 
While the syrup is still warm, add zest slices from 3 limes and allow to steep in the syrup until cool.
 
To make the cocktail base, combine 1 part syrup with 3 parts gin.
 
To make the finished cocktail the ratio is 1 part base to 1 part tonic (or to taste) and add lime. I recommend adding a tag with the recipe and explanation of your lovely elixer.
 
Cowboy Cocktail
 
Now if you’ve made the Cowboy Candy (and if not, seriously, you should) and you saved the juice, you’re good to go, or…..
 
slice .5# of jalepeno peppers
.33c white vinegar
1c white sugar
.25t ground cayenne
 
Combine in a heavy sauce pan and allow to simmer for about 10 mins. Reserve some peppers for garnish and discard the rest. Allow the syrup to cool. The full Cowboy Candy recipe is here.
 
Combine 1 part Cowboy Syrup to 2 parts tequila for the base
 
For the finished cocktail combine 1 part base with 1 part lime juice and a splash of soda water.
 
Don’t forget that tag with instructions- they’ll need it
 
Chamomile Cordial
this cordial is not overly sweet and really lovely after a big meal
 
8 chamomile tea bags or 1c loose flowers
4c water
4c sugar
vodka or a clear brandy for more kick or heck, go for grappa
 
In a large saucepan heat the water to boiling and let tea steep until cool. This makes a strong intense tea.
 
Remove tea bags or strain flowers and add sugar. Bring to boil and simmer 5 mins
 
Remove from heat and allow syrup to cool.
 
To make cordial combine 1 part chamomile syrup to 5 parts alcohol, or to taste. It should not by syrupy sweet, just a soft sweetness so you can feel the kick of the alcohol.