A cocktail shrub is not what you think

A shrub, in cocktail terms, is a non-alcoholic drinking vinegar. That sounds really terrible, but if you get the balance right it adds a wonderful depth and complexity to your cocktail.

When mixing your drink – for all the budding mixologists out there creating their own recipes, the simplified mixology formula for incorporating a shrub is base spirit + shrub + complimentary liqueur + bitter.

A truly great cocktail must have its sweet and sour elements perfected balanced. Creating your own shrub at home can be tricky, but it all boils down to quality ingredients. A so-so base vinegar or underflavored syrup will give you shrub that’s just, well, meh.

As always, I visited my favourite cocktail-related website for information and recipes.

Choosing your base vinegar

Not all kinds of vinegar are created equally. For example, avoid bland distilled vinegars. Instead, find a vinegar made through the process of fermentation. They will be more expensive, but totally worth it. If this is your first attempt at creating a shrub, test a less expensive option first.

Once you’ve found your vinegar, think about how it will pair with the rest of your ingredients – what flavour do you want to highlight? Something fruity? Your chosen gin’s herbs and botanicals? Again, some experimentation will help you find the best combination – but beware: it might be tipsy work.

Making your shrub

As you’ll learn in mixology, there’s not just one way to create an outstanding cocktail, syrup or shrub. The most important thing now is to ensure that your shrub’s flavour suits the cocktail you’re planning.

The simplest way of making a shrub is simply by mixing a flavoured syrup with your chosen vinegar. If you want to add a stronger flavour, you might want to simmer your syrup and vinegar with the fruit or herbs you have in mind. Make sure you do this over low heat, ideally in a double boiler.

Using your shrub in a cocktail

Drinks with loads of ice, like a julep and highball-type cocktails, are ideal for shrubs as it needs a good bit of dilution. Ideally, an acidic ingredient like lemon or lime juice should not already be part of the cocktail.

Shrubs are also great in mocktails, you just need to add some soda water to create a refreshing drink, at any time of the day.

Peach shrub

Peach shrub

2 cups of your chosen vinegar
3 ripe peaches, sliced
10 cloves
2 star anise pods
1 cinnamon stick
2 cups simple syrup

Add all ingredients except the simple syrup into a bowl and steep for 2 days.
Add simple syrup and stir to combine.
Store in the refrigerator for up to 10 days.

Berry shrub

Berry shrub

2 cups frozen raspberries and/or blackberries
1 cup sugar
1 sprig thyme
1 cup white balsamic vinegar

Add the berries, thyme and sugar to a large bowl and refrigerate overnight.
Stir in the vinegar and let sit for 3 hours, mixing or shaking occasionally, then stir until sugar is dissolved.
Strain out solids and store in the refrigerator for up to 10 days.

Pineapple shurb

4 cups pineapple, cubed (or frozen pineapple chunks)
2 cups dark brown sugar
2 cinnamon sticks
4 cloves
2 one-cm pieces peeled ginger root
2 cups water
2 cups apple cider vinegar

Add pineapple, sugar and spices into a medium saucepan and cook over medium heat until the sugar bubbles and the pineapple is caramelised.
Add water and bring to a boil, then reduce heat, cover and simmer for 20 minutes.
Remove from heat and add the vinegar, stirring to combine.
Cool and refrigerate overnight.
Strain out solids and refrigerate for up to 10 days.

P.S the pineapple chunks are edible and delicious – don’t discard them!

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