ichael Dietsch had never had a shrub until a hot July day
in New Orleans. The drink he was served combined
cachaça, ginger ale and squeezed limes with raspberry-infused, sweetened vinegar. “It was different, delicious and
incredibly refreshing, and I became fascinated,” he says.
He did some research, and started mixing up batches at home.
What began as a personal project became a professional obsession.
The result is Shrubs: An Old-Fashioned Drink for Modern Times
(Countryman Press, 2014), a comprehensive history, instruction
manual and recipe collection for both vinegar syrups and cocktails
made with them.
The name “shrubs” references both the “drinking” vinegars—
prepared by adding fresh fruits or vegetables, sugar and optional
herbs and spices, even teas—as well as the cocktails made with
them. Dietsch discovered that shrubs have a centuries-old history,
originating in the Middle East and spreading through Europe during the Middle Ages. They were popular in Colonial America and
remained a favorite into the early years of the 20th century.
Shrubs are included in Slow Food’s Ark of Taste, a catalog of
distinctive ingredients and foods from the past that are in danger
of being forgotten. But thanks to adventurous and creative bartenders working their mixology magic, these thirst-quenching,
palate-priming, appetite-stimulating concoctions are once again
getting the attention they deserve.
“Shrubs are a great cocktail ingredient, because they’re
versatile and add complexity, providing acidity but with more
structure and flavor than citrus juice,” Dietsch says. “They’re
also a way to integrate local farm produce into a bar program
and do something original.”
Do it your way
Making shrubs is easy. Ratios vary, but Dietsch finds that
a good starting point is two parts fruit and one part sugar to
one part vinegar. His basic method is to macerate fruit in sugar
anywhere from two hours to overnight, add vinegar, stir, strain
out solids, which can be used for baking or compotes, and bottle.
Serve immediately or refrigerate and allow to mellow out for a
couple of weeks.
“Don’t feel bound by rules,” Dietsch says. “I choose the type
of vinegar and amount of sugar based on the fruit—apple cider
vinegar with stone fruit, coconut vinegar with pineapple, rice
wine vinegar with more delicate fruits—and adjust the tartness to
suit my taste.” Shrubs pair well with white and brown spirits. “Gin
is fantastic with a cucumber shrub, and a dark, funky Jamaican
rum is excellent with a rich, jammy plum shrub,” he adds.
Matt Ragan, general manager at Victor Tangos in Dallas
and head of the restaurant’s bar program, uses 12-year-old
wood-aged El Dorado rum with a blackberry/lime/mint shrub.
aPPle shrub CoCKTail
Chris Mendenhall, Bartender // Westend
Bistro // Washington, D. C.
2 oz. Avion Silver tequila
¾ oz. Domaine de Canton
2 oz. Shrub & Co. apple shrub
Method: Combine tequila, Domaine de
Canton and apple shrub. Stir over ice;
strain into coupe glass.