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.
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.
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