When is a shrub not a bush? Hint: when you can drink it


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I had never heard of shrub until my friend Patsy brought me a bottle of raspberry shrub she’d made from an old family recipe. It seems to be a New England thing, dating from colonial times, made from an extravagant amount of raspberries cooked with sugar and when cool, dosed with vinegar. A gorgeous raspberry red, it made a wonderful drink with a little gin and sparkling water. I even poured a little of the vinegary sweet-tart syrup over ice cream. Patsy tells me she likes it on blintzes and in her yogurt.

I just came across the sweetened vinegar-based drink again -- at Bäco Mercat -- where chef/owner Josef Centeno makes his own shrubs aka ‘drinking vinegars.’ They’re used for his alternative to Coca-Cola, namely “sweet and sour soda.” And also cocktails made with a variety of spirits. Centeno creates his shrubs with whatever’s in season — Meyer lemon, red grape, black mint, etc. He’s even made a chile-lime vinegar for their version of the margarita.


As customers get into the idea of drinking vinegar, he’ll sometimes give them a small bottle of, say, tangerine drinking vinegar, enough to make two sodas. Those sweet little bottles are not for sale yet, but maybe soon.

What exactly is shrub? The New York food blog Serious Eats has the answer and a recipe from Michael Dietsch, who blogs at A Dash of Bitters.

Dietsch writes, “In beverage history, the word shrub has carried several meanings. For our purposes, it’s enough to say that a shrub is an acidulated beverage made of fruit juice, sugar, and other ingredients. Where things get complicated is that the acid varies by recipe; it can be either fruit juice or vinegar. Additionally, some shrub recipes are prepared using alcohol that steeps with the fruit, acid, and sugar. Finally, hardcore shrubbers make their own vinegar, using fruit juice, sugar, and wild yeasts from the air.”

Here’s Dietsch’s recipe for a light and refreshing cocktail: Pair a small amount of shrub (about half an ounce) with 2 ounces of vermouth or sherry. Top that with some seltzer or club soda.


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-- S. Irene Virbila