From London’s stylish Jukes cordialites to The Shrubbery 's local drinking vinegars, sweet and sour shrubs are the coolest new/old drinks to DIY!
By CINDA CHAVICH
Since I’ve reduced my alcohol consumption, I’ve been looking for other nicely acidic drinks to compliment food and I’ve settled on something that was popular in the Prohibition era, drinking vinegars or shrubs.
It’s an old-fashioned concept — sort of a precursor to the soft drink — that was made by combining fresh fruits (often berries or other soft fruits) with sugar and vinegar, creating a kind of sweet and sour syrup to combine with chilled soda water for a refreshing drink.
Making and serving shrubs (drinking vinegars) was a thing more than a century ago (apparently dating to 17th century England and sipped by sailors to prevent scurvy), but fast forward to today and there are some interesting variations on the theme, especially when you think about all of the tonics, elixers and flavoured waters on the market.
But unlike a commercial flavoured water, a homemade shrub is economical and likely to come with a healthy dose of vitamins and antioxidants from the fruit, with all o the benefits of a live vinegar. Just a couple of tablespoons in a glass of cold, carbonated water and you’re set.
And it’s a wonderful way to use up seasonal fruit, especially those beautiful wild blackberries that I foraged and saved in the freezer for just such a project.
SEARCHING FOR SHRUBS
My quest for shrubs, and shrub recipes, has sent me around the world.
Perhaps the most interesting variation on this theme is a new product called Jukes, the high concept, organic apple cider vinegar-based concentrates created by Matthew Jukes, a noted London wine writer, to replicate the experience of drinking wine, while avoiding alcohol.
Though Jukes are not wine substitutes per se (i.e. they don’t aim to mimic the exact flavour profile of a specific wine grape or blend), these “cordialites” combine fruits, vegetables, herbs, spices and flowers to create non-alcoholic drinks (both in concentrate form for mixing and premixed in cans) that have the right combination of sugar and acidity to enjoy like wine.
For example, Jukes 6 — The Dark Red — infuses blackberries, blackcurrants, raspberries, strawberries and plums in apple cider vinegar with brown sugar and natural flavourings to create a deep, cabernet coloured shrub to combine with still or sparkling water for a sophisticated non-alcoholic sipper.
There’s a variety of choices, including Jukes 1 (The Classic White with apple, peach, pineapple and cucumber) and Jukes 8 (The Rose) You can also use them to create zero-ABV cocktails, like a Jukes Sour, shaken up with apple juice, lime and egg white.
While Jukes make lovely drinks that match nicely with a variety of foods, they’re not easy to find in Canada. I tasted them in a sample package I received directly from the company, which advised that they are only now getting into the Canadian market. But you can order online through Tre Amici wine importers, https://treamiciwines.com/collections/jukes), sold as concentrates, ($60 for nine 30 cl bottles of signature Jukes 1, Jukes 6 and Jukes 8 cordialities which make roughly 18 drinks).
There are also locally made shrubs, including the Elderberry Shrub and Turmeric Ginger Shrub from Melinda Divers of Moonshine Mamma’s on Salt Spring Island. Divers touts the many health benefits of these drinking vinegars, which she says can be added to sparkling water, cocktails, tea or salad dressings. One 500 ml bottle makes 16 servings and you can order online or find them on the shelf at several city grocers.
The Shrubbery in Victoria creates a wider line of fruity shrubs, and you’ll find them at the Moss Street and Esquilmalt farmers market, at holiday/Christmas markets or from their online shop. Whether simply for sodas or added to cocktails, dressings or marinades this collection of nine unique flavours will tempt both mixologists and chefs, ranging from their original Ginger Switchel, with spicy ginger, coriander and honey, to tangy Rhubarb Orange Shrub with cinnamon and star anise, and oaked Raspberry and Currant Shrub with a hint of black pepper.
Traditionally, shrubs were made as a way to preserve fruit and create citrus-like juices to consume over the winter. So, with a good crop of wild blueberries and some elderberries ripening in the garden, it seemed like the right time to dive into the topic of making shrubs from scratch.
I found recipes on line and in several books on my shelf, from the Wild Blueberry Shrub in A Field Guide to Canadian Cocktails by Scott McCallum and Victoria Walsh, to the New York Times Summer Fruit Shrub. It's made by mashing and macerating a pound of chopped plums, apricots and peaches (or other fruit) with ¾ of a cup of sugar, refrigerating for 24 hours, then mixing in ¾ cups of vinegar, refrigerating another few hours (or days), and straining into a glass bottle, to use 1:2 or 1:3 with seltzer or ginger beer over ice.
The Times chefs riff on a variety of combinations for shrubs — from cherries with fresh mint and red wine vinegar to serve with tonic, to cucumber dill shrub with white vinegar or celery with sugar and apple cider vinegar. There’s also a Sweet Bay Peppercorn Shrub made with made with lemon and grapefruit peel and fruit, thyme, bay leaves, peppercorns and sugar, the acidity of the citrus juice replacing the usual vinegar in the mix.
But I like the directions from Food52.com — “How to make Shrubs (aka Drinking Vinegars) Without a Recipe”.
This is dead easy and works with whatever you have to start your shrub because “it’s all a matter of ratios.” And when we’re talking about shrubs that is a 1:1:1 ratio of fruit, sugar and vinegar.
Technically, a shrub is made by macerating fruit with sugar (cold) then straining the juice and combining with vinegar, specifically a “live” apple cider vinegar.
But you can also speed up the process by heating the fruit with sugar and a little water to create a quick fruit syrup to cut with vinegar to make a tasty sweet and sour concentrate.
Here’s what they say:
“A good place to start for cold process shrub is 1 pound chopped fruit, 2 cups sugar, and 2 cups vinegar; for the heated process, go for 1 pound fruit, 1 cup sugar, 1 cup water, and 1 cup vinegar. Each method should yield about 3 cups of shrub syrup, which will keep in the fridge.”
They also suggest making shrubs without fruit — think ginger, rosemary, thyme, peppercorns, cardamom, bay leaves infused in a simple syrup, then cut with a fruity vinegar (apple cider, rice vinegar, Champagne, or red wine vinegar). Or tomato and red pepper shrub with Worcestershire. Add a splash of balsamic to add depth to a dark blackberry shrub. White sugar lets fresh fruit flavours shine while brown sugar adds a layer of deeper flavour and colour, or try honey or agave in the mix.
Just turn your kitchen into a shrub lab and start experimenting!
You can make shrubs year-round with the fruits and herbs at hand, whether peach/cardamom/honey in summer or pear/demerara/star anise later in the season.
If simmered, you can even save the cooked fruit to add to smoothies or spoon over yogurt.
I used the “hot” process for my elderberry shrub, because I only had half a pound of fruit. I actually used an equal amount of water to simmer the elderberries and a piece of lemon zest (to extract the flavour) for about 30 minutes, then combined the strained liquid with an equal amount of sugar (about ¾ cup) and reheated with about 1/3 cup of apple cider vinegar (the taste/balance seemed right as the elderberries were particularly tart to begin with).
The result was just about a cup of elderberry shrub. I put it into a bottle in the fridge and have been adding it to my elderberry sodas, a tablespoon or two over ice, topped with sparkling mineral water.
Next, I’m going to try making a shrub with the wild blackberries I stashed away in the freezer.
You may have your first encounter with shrubs in a cocktail — creative bartenders love to make shrubs with local ingredients to make unique drinks. Think the Mayahuel Flame at Clive’s Classic Lounge, made with reposado tequila, house ginger & honey shrub, Clive’s serrano & green tea amaro & fresh grapefruit juice. Or try the Haitian Divorce at Bodega, a combination of vodka, sweet red vermouth, bitters and pineapple ginger shrub.
Gin seems to marry well with fruity and citrusy shrubs. And it’s nice to splash into a glass of prosecco. But shrubs are perfect in non-alc cocktails, too — with enough sugar and acidity to create some nice intensity without the booze, and a good counterbalance to the sweeter de-alcoholized white wines and bubbles on the market.
With the tagline, “We are your sole source of sweet and sour”, The Shrubbery recommends their shrubs with “hot, cold, sparkling or still” water, combined with beer for a shandy/radler or with oil for salad dressing, and straight up, to pour over ice cream, stir into yogurt or add to sauces.
The shrub is definitely a local product to explore and inspire — not just for landscaping!
©Cinda Chavich 2024