What Is a Cocktail Shrub?

How to Make Your Own Drinking Vinegars

Holiday Spirit with Cranberry-fig Shrub
Holiday Spirit with Cranberry-fig Shrub. Photo Courtesy: © Sweet Hospitality Group

A shrub, in drink terms, is a concentrated syrup that combines fruit, sugar, and vinegar, resulting in a sweet, acidic mixer that can be used in a variety of drinks. Quite often, herbs and spices are also used to created interesting flavor combinations. You may also see shrubs referred to as "drinking vinegars."

Drinking Shrubs

Shrubs can stand alone in drinks, topped with either cold water (as was customary in early America) or with club soda, ginger ale, or any clear soda.

In recent years, shrubs have become a popular cocktail ingredient as more bartenders are crafting their own and creating new, rather creative recipes to mix them in. Because they are acidic, shrubs are difficult to mix with fruit juices that are also highly acidic.

The recent popularity of shrubs has made them available on the commercial market. Companies like Shrub & Co., Shrub Drinks, and The Gingered Pear sell a variety of shrub flavors.

Shrub Cocktails:

  • Daiquir-ease - Blueberry shrub with apple cider vinegar and agave nectar
  • Five Spice Mule - Apple-fennel shrub from The Gingered Pear
  • Winter Still - Blueberry-basil shrub with apple cider vinegar (method notes included)

Make Your Own Shrubs

Making your own shrubs is very easy and the flavor possibilities are endless. The process is similar to making simple syrup or homemade infusions and there are two methods, one cold and one warm.

Ingredients Needed:

  • Fruit - Berries are a favorite shrub fruit, though almost any fruit can be used. Pears, plums, apples, and even cucumbers or rhubarb are good options as well.
  • Sugar - As with simple syrup, you can experiment with the type of sugar you use and one may work better with a particular fruit-vinegar combination than others. White granulated sugar is perfectly fine to use, though some shrub makers prefer turbinado, demerara, or even regular brown sugar.
  • Vinegar - The majority of the time you will see shrubs made with red wine or apple cider vinegars, and some will use balsamic vinegar. While white vinegar is fine, the extra flavors of the other options are a nice addition for shrubs.
  • Extra Flavorings - Herbs and spices will add a little dimension to your shrubs and are an optional ingredient. Figs, peppercorns, basil, rosemary, thyme, and fennel are just a few options that have appeared in recent shrubs.

Hot Method for Making Shrubs

This is the most popular method for making shrubs and it is very easy. Some prefer to begin by making a simple syrup of water and sugar, adding the vinegar after cooling and just before bottling.

The basic steps:

  1. Heat equal parts of sugar and vinegar on the stove, stirring constantly until the sugar is dissolved. (Adjust the ratio to taste)
  2. Add fruit and simmer to release the juices into the syrup.
  3. Cool the mixture.
  4. Strain out solids through a double layer of cheesecloth.
  5. Bottle into a clean glass jar and allow to rest in the refrigerator for 2-4 days. More sugar or vinegar can be added to taste.

Cold Method for Making Shrubs

Many shrub makers have experimented with cold methods for shrubs. Take a look at this Holiday Spirit cocktail recipe, which features a cold cranberry-fig shrub.

Here is another very easy and basic method:

  1. Use 1 part each fruit and vinegar and add them to a jar with a tight-fitting lid.
  2. Shake vigorously for about 20 seconds and then allow it to infuse at room temperature for about a week. Give it a good shake once a day.
  3. Strain out solids through a double layer of cheesecloth and pour into a clean glass jar with a tight-fitting lid.
  4. Add 1 part sugar and shake until it is completely dissolved.
  5. Refrigerate for about 1 week (more or less time to taste). More sugar or vinegar can be added to taste.

More About Cocktail Shrubs (with Recipes)