Shrubs: it's like soda for grown ups!

Let's face it people, it's hot. And we all know we should be drinking our water and staying hydrated, but often in the summertime I find that ice water just doesn't cut it. I want more from my refreshing beverage! But soda doesn't cut it, and beer doesn't cut it, and wine doesn't cut it, and sangria doesn't cut it, and spa water is usually boring as all hell... so what's a gal to do?


Honeydew - jalapeno shrub with fresh strawberries and a mint garnish

Enter the shrub. A shrub was a cocktail that was popular back in the day that featured vinegar mixed with fruit or fruit syrup and then blended with liquor or carbonated water. Now, you might be thinking "Who the heck drinks VINEGAR?!?!" but the beautiful thing about a shrub is that it's meant to be only a small portion of the overall drink, so the vinegar blends into the background and gives a lip smacking roundness to your grown up soda instead of a sharp, smack you in the face and make your eyes water kinda thing. And, if you're not super into the vinegar taste, you can mix it up with some tart fruit juice instead (think lime, lemon, or grapefruit).

The beautiful thing about shrubs is that you can whip up a batch of concentrate and then mix it with sparkling water whenever, so you're always about ten seconds away from an awesome refreshing drink.

Like our salad post, making a shrub is a choose your own adventure kinda thing, and the BEST part is that you can make it out of pretty much whatever is in season at the time- so hit up your farmer's market, get creative, and get to drinkin!

The fruit juice base:

Start with about a pound of soft, juicy and ripe fruit or melon: berries, peaches, nectarines, plums, watermelon, honeydew, cantaloupe, pears, and the like. Wash and take off the leaves or rind and then chop roughly. Toss in a clean nonreactive bowl(glass is best, stainless steel would be second best) with just enough sugar (can be turbanado or sucanat or coconut sugar if you'd like) to coat the berries but not so much that there's sugar crystals at the bottom of the bowl. Why the sugar if it's a healthy drink? The sugar will bring out all of the juices in the fruit and sweeten the fruit juice just an itty bitty tad- however all of the sugar that you tossed the fruit with won't make it into the final shrub. Cover the bowl with a clean cloth and let sit at least 2 hours and up to overnight and give it a stir or two whenever you walk past the bowl. After sitting, strain the fruit through a colander lined with a single sheet of cheesecloth (or through a fine mesh strainer or a chinois) into either a large wide mouth mason jar or another clean nonreactive bowl. Smush down on the fruit to extract as much of the awesome juice as possible!

Now you add...

Now that you've got your fruit juice ready to go you're ready to experiment with flavors! This is really the kinda thing where the sky is the absolute limit so don't be afraid to play around! Pretty much any flavor that would go well with the fruit that you made your juice with will work well in a shrub. You can also toss in veggies and/or herbs and/or spices to take the express train to flavor town! As for the vinegar, apple cider vinegar is always a good start but there's coconut vinegar (which is a great funky vinegar), rice vinegar, white wine or champagne vinegar, red wine vinegar, sherry vinegar, and so on. Since this concentrate has so few ingredients you want to get good quality vinegar to add to your shrub- don't get the dusty cheap bottle on the bottom shelf of the discount mart.

The basic ratio of juice : vinegar is 1 quart vinegar for the juice from every 1lb of fruit.

Here's some starting points, but remember, the only limit here is your imagination!

Combine in a 1 quart mason jar:

  • Juice from 1 lb (Honeydew + strawberry) + 1 seeded and sliced jalapeno + 3-4 green cardamom pods + 2 cups apple cider vinegar
  • Juice from 1 lb raspberries + 2 sliced stalks of rhubarb + 2 large bruised mint stalks + 2 cups coconut vinegar
  • Juice from 1 lb pears + 1 thumb-sized piece of ginger (peeled and sliced into coins) + 2 cups white wine vinegar
  • Juice from 1 lb peaches + 5 cloves + 2 star anise pods + 2 cups fresh squeezed lime juiceTaste your creation and feel free to add more spices or herbs (but remember that the flavor will get stronger the longer it sits in your fridge!) Stick your creation in the fridge and, ideally, let it hang out overnight for the flavors to mingle- a jar will last pretty much forever (maybe a bit less if you make it with fruit juice instead of vinegar) and the flavors from any spices or herbs will continue to get stronger the longer it sits.

The fruits (and vinegars) of your labor

When it comes time to serve, I like to start with a 1:5 ratio of shrub concentrate to sparkling water but for some of the more funky flavored ones you might even want to start with a 1:7 ratio. If you want to sweeten things up a little bit feel free to mix in some natural sweetener of your choice- a light honey or agave syrup goes well with pretty much anything, or you can kick it up a notch and try maple syrup or molasses for yet another layer of flavor. Pour into a chilled glass, add a bunch of ice, and beat the heat the old fashioned fancy way!