The beverage world is a notoriously trendy one (see energy drinks, bubble tea, kombucha), but who saw a powdered-wig-era drink storming the scene? And one made with a healthy dose of vinegar, no less.
Shrubs are the buzzworthy bevy of 2014, a fruit-and-vinegar-based drink that dates back to colonial times. Shrub is derived from the Arabic word sharbah, which means “a drink”; “sherbet” and “syrup” also stem from the word. A modern-day shrub isn’t a drink in itself but a syrup to which you add sparkling or still water. The vinegar helps preserve the syrup and adds a tart component to what could otherwise be a cloying drink.
At its best a shrub is about enjoying and extending the life of seasonal fruit. Shrubs use whatever fresh fruit is in abundance that needs to get used up before it gets too ripe. The sugar and vinegar in the drink means it will keep in the refrigerator for up to six months, so you can enjoy a taste of summer well into winter.
Not only a good way to preserve summer fruit, shrubs are popping up as cocktail mixers. Jack Rose Libation House in Los Gatos, for instance, serves the Scarlet Letter, which blends house-made plum shrub with Martin Miller’s English gin, Fee Brothers bitters and lemon oil.
Making your own shrub is easy. Start with a pound of ripe (or even overripe) fruit. Peaches, blackberries and strawberries are particularly good right now. Wash and quarter the fruit (blackberries don’t need to be cut) and place in a large bowl.
Add one to two cups of sugar, depending on how sweet you want it. Work the sugar in with your hands, but not so much the fruit becomes a pulp. A pinch of salt will accent flavors, and also help draw out liquid.
Let the mixture macerate on the counter for two to three days, stirring a few times a day. You want it to start to ferment, and you’ll see bubbles start to appear.
Next, add your vinegar of choice. Rice wine and white wine vinegar are light and somewhat neutral. Sherry and balsamic vinegar will add their own flavors.
After adding the vinegar, combine and strain the mixture, and store in a bottle. Then pour a little of your shrub into a glass and top with water and ice, and enjoy.