Shrubs: Vinegar in Your Cocktail?

Once upon a time, people harvested and consumed what seasonally sprouted from the ground or burst from a blossom. Preserving that herb, fruit or vegetable for later use typically meant drying, fermenting, salting or making a sugar-vinegar concoction called a shrub. With the advent of refrigeration, shrubs fell to the wayside for nearly a century. However, the worldwide mixology boom has brought many Old World cocktail recipes, techniques and homemade ingredients back to life. Shrubs are appearing on high-end cocktail menus around the world, piquing the interest of bartenders and bar-attenders, alike.

Some History

The use of vinegar as a pickling and preserving agent is traced back to Babylonia, around 5000 BC. Vinegar residue has also been detected on Egyptian relics, and the ancient Romans left evidence of various wine-based vinegars. Chinese rice vinegar also goes back centuries. Fast-forward to the Middle Ages, and beyond, and Europeans (particularly, the English) have long been preserving produce by way of shrubs. The flavored, vitamin-rich, sweet-acidic liquid left behind was used in drinks and could also be cooked down into syrup. These methods traveled to the New World during Colonial times.

Shrubs' Comeback

Any kind of vinegar can be the base of a shrub, depending on the desired outcome. The dark and rich balsamic kind, plain distilled white vinegar, fruit-based vinegars, rice vinegar and apple cider vinegar each bring a different flavor base. As with infusing spirits, or making syrups, let your imagination run wild!

Often referred to as "drinking vinegar," shrubs are imbibed in both alcoholic and nonalcoholic mixtures and are considered stand-alone healthy tonics. The modern-day apple cider vinegar craze recalls Japanese Samurai drinking rice vinegar shots for vitality. Shrubs bring a more flavorful, creative alternative to those cures, and with their acidity, they sometimes replace citrus in a cocktail.

The easy recipe below can be used for a nonalcoholic drink by pouring a couple of ounces into a tall, ice-filled glass and topping with club soda or ginger beer. It's also spectacular to shake into a margarita. The leftover fruit is interesting spooned over vanilla ice cream or cooked into savory sauces or pies.

Pome-Berry-Chile Shrub*
  • 1 1/2 cups blackberries
  • 1/2 cup sliced fresh green chile
  • 1/4 cup pomegranate seeds
  • 1 cup white, granulated sugar
  • 3/4 cup pomegranate vinegar

Mix berries, chile and pomegranate seeds with sugar and vinegar. Let sit at least 15 minutes. Pour mixture into a saucepan and heat until almost boiling, stirring often, until sugar is dissolved. Remove from heat. Muddle the fruit within the mixture. Let cool in the refrigerator for at least a couple of hours (more time results in more flavor). Strain and store liquid.

*Excerpted from Edible Cocktails: Garden to Glass by Natalie Bovis © 2012

Letters to the Editor

Mail letters to PO Box 4910 Santa Fe, NM 87502 or email them to editor[at] Letters (no more than 200 words) should refer to specific articles in the Reporter. Letters will be edited for space and clarity.

We also welcome you to follow SFR on social media (on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter) and comment there. You can also email specific staff members from our contact page.