A Shrub, not a Shrubbery

The fist time we had a shrub in a cocktail was about two years ago at Little Savannah, here in Birmingham. Then bartender, Steva Casey made us something that included a strawberry/rosemary shrub. Not being familiar with the term, we naturally inquired about it. We’ve seen them a few times since then, but they are only beginning to become popular at nicer cocktail bars in the area. Recently at Bettola, we had a conversation with a bartender there who was starting to experiment with them himself, and as it happened, we had only made our first shrubs a couple of weeks before that.

A shrub is, essentially, fruit and sugar macerated with vinegar. In olden times, shrubs were one of the ways that fruit farmers used up the leavings of their crop at the end of the season. On it’s own, blended with tea, or mixed with club soda, shrubs are potent tonics that fix whatever ails you. They can also add very nice complications to cocktails.

After getting some basics from Amy Stewart and Alice Doyle, we started own own experiments with what we happened to have around. The basic formula is:

  • Take a bunch of fruit and cut it into bite size pieces
  • Use 1/2 cup of sugar (or other sweetener) for every cup of fruit
  • Mix the fruit and sugar. Let it sit in a covered bowl overnight.
  • Transfer to a mason jar
  • Add a bunch of whatever herbs would be good with the fruit
  • Cover with vinegar
  • Shake it up.
  • Let it sit in the fridge for a week, shaking it every day
  • Strain out the solids with cheese cloth into a clean jar

So far our combinations have included cucumber/mint and blackberry/thyme. We used raw apple cider vinegar for both. We have had some excellent shrubs that used balsamic vinegar as well.

The cucumber/mint shrub is lovely in gin cocktails, and the blackberry/thyme goes well with bourbon.