Shrubs – Fast Trending
If store cupboard ingredients had a personality, vinegar would be the crotchety old witch with an acid tongue.
Well, the old black witch appears to be dead, vanished in a cloud of aromatic steam and a bubbling brew of acidic fruity blends – shrubs – trending in LA bars are tipped as summer’s new cocktail.
What is a shrub?
Vintage vinegar shrub cocktails tease the senses with an experience which is both sweet and sharp, driving hunger and quelling thirst. As you take your first sips of the shrub there is a burst of flavour which stuns the tastebuds, sends tingles through the nose followed by a slight flaying at the back of the throat – similar to eating forbidden sour sherbets!
I have a problem with shrubbing. Whenever I taste anything really acidic or sharp like grapefruit my right eye twitches uncontrollably and I let out the expletive “arrrrrgggg”. This means that if I drink anything lemony or vinegary in a bar I can be seen as winking rapidly. Is this just me?
How are they made?
Boutique style cocktail shrub syrups include one part juice, fruit concentrate or vegetable macerated with sweetner which could include honey or sugar to form a thick, syrupy concentrate. The yeast from the fruit and in the air starts to convert to alcohol which is then turned into vinegar by the bacteria in the vinegar. Once a mixologist has concocted the perfect shrub, the juice is reduced and refrigerated for between one to 14 days.
Shrubs can be layered and jussed up with just about any fruit or herb including rhubarb, pear, ginger, watermelon and even sweet potato or given a clean, fresh taste with garden vegetables.
For the best results, always use a good quality vinegar. As a word of warning, balsamic vinegar can be over-powering – the berries don’t want to taste as if they’ve been dragged into Orpheus’s underworld!
Aromatic berry vinegars add a splash of vibrancy on a dull day and can be bottled in cute little cork-topped bottles. Sprigs of rosemary, thyme or stems of flowers or petals can be tossed in ready for the warm evenings ahead.
Serving a Shrub
For a cool, revitalising shrub pick-me-up on a hot day, a tablespoon of shrub syrup can be added to iced sparkling water, soda or spirits.
Apple Vinegar Shrub Cocktail
To get the idea, a basic Apple Vinegar Shrub Cocktail contains the following ingredients;
1 Part Gin
1 Part Apple Vinegar
2 Parts Tonic
Slice of Lemon
Are you a secret shrubber?
It’s possible that you’re already a shrub drinker without knowing it. Secret shrub drinking at home really is an undisclosed habit and includes sneaking into the store cupboard late at night and swigging vinaigrette dressing by the glassful or draining the last drop of pickle juice from the jar. Incidently, if you’re pickled as a newt when your spree takes place, pickle pick-me-ups are a great cure-all.
Shrubbing – Medicinal
In the late 15th century, shrubs in the UK were a form of alcoholic or non-alcoholic cordial and used as medicine to cure aches and pains and maintain good health. Daily shrub swiggers swear by the old wives tale that if you mix 1 tablespoon of apple cider vinegar with 1/8 tablespoon baking powder this will aid digestion. Old converts swear this remedy corrects PH levels and aids weight loss. Added household benefits include a foamy mixture strong enough to clean the pipes. Just imagine what this could do to the throat! The opposing camp argues that the vinegar’s corrosive attributes decay the teeth. For this reason, shrub cocktails need to be consumed with plenty of water.
Shrubs as a Preservative
It’s the acetic acid contained in vinegar which preserves the fruit and stops it from spoiling. Before the advent of refrigeration and commercial factories, cordials were mixed with water and served as a cool, revitalising drink. The Babylonians added date vinegar to wine to make it safe to drink, the romans mixed vinegar with a water to form a beverage called posca and sailors in the colonian era carried lime shrubs containing vitamin c on board ships to prevent scurvy.
Smugglers – Ahoy there!
From 1680-1690, smugglers in Devon and Cornwall used shrubs to mask the taste of salty seawater and low grade spirits. For tax avoidance purposes, barrels of rum would be stored offshore until the ‘coast was clear’ and then transported by raft to a network of caves and tunnels, often in high seas and treacherous conditions.
Why I Abandoned my Home-Shrub Syrup Making Project (Project never got off the runway because I was too tight to spend good money on decent fruit)
I dream. One day I’m going to catch the wave of a new food trend, steer it to market and make my first million.
My new foodie trends follow the same slightly obsessive patterns.
I generally live with a food trend for about a month, climb a mountain of research, talk about it, mull over ideas – then my kitchen experiments begin.
Reality kicks in as the bubble always bursts with the practicalities of setting up a country kitchen.
As one dream dies, a new idea emerges. Sometimes I’m re-inspired almost immediately, sometimes it takes a few months.
Ideally my foodie project needs to be fairly simple, slightly eccentric, brightly coloured and with a historical significance.
Over the years family projects have included yoghurt-making (before yoghurt-making kits were banned) spiced cider made from the garden apple russet tree, crab-apple jelly (before our tree was chopped down) and soup-making (I worked for a small soup producer).
Sadly, I have to report that my shrubbing bubble has completely died after the first two weeks. It came so close.
The simple reason is that I can’t get my head around drinking vinegary fruit and I can’t deal with mould in my fridge.
On two occasions, I’ve been into town to purchase cherries, raspberries and apples for shrub-making purposes. On each occasion I find myself resisting and returning home with an empty shopping bag. I have a stubborn streak and I cannot bring myself to waste good money on decent fruit.
Reasons why my shrubbing bubble burst
Too tight to waste money on good fruit - The beauty of fruit lies in its perfectly formed unblemished skin. I was put off by recipes from the ol’ South which suggest that I should beg for bruised or maggoty fruit from the man at the market stall – this is a damn cheek. Business sense dictates that the man from market garden will be using “seconds” in his own chutney or he’ll be out of business and if you’re really insistent that you want free fruit at any cost, you’ll be lucky to be offered thirds. This is when the fruit has shrivelled and died. When the fruit gets to this stage, even the maggots dig a hole and leave! I’m fussy about my ingredients which is part of the pleasure of cooking. Its either the highest quality ingredients or nothing at all.
Mother of Vinegar – Some shrub recipes ask you to look for the mother. Er, how weird is this? and no, this isn’t a re-birthing spiritual exercise. You almost expect mother’s spirit to rise out of your bowl. Mother of Vinegar turns out to be a disgusting slimy disc of vinegar consisting of acetic and cellulose.
My fridge isn’t a lab. It’s a sterile storage unit. I like my fridge organised with military precision with no-nonsense plastic snap-on air-tight containers. After careful consideration, I really didn’t like the idea of creating experimental puddles of frothing enzymes in the same storage space as my vegetables.
Boredom and Neglect - It takes about 5 days to nurture a skulking slurry of shrubbing goo (surely this must be the adolescent son or daughter of mother of vinegar). On a daily basis the recipe dictates that you’re required to stir the baby, skim pus from the top of the mixture and check it for mould spots. Yuk! No thanks. I could just imagine that if I opened my fridge door, it would be throwing a hissy fit at me and might even grow legs. I’m also pretty sure that I wouldn’t be a good mother, after day 3 I would get bored and neglect it.
Ol’ South Recipes - Original recipes from the ol’ South which are more shrubbin’ than shrubbing start by saying “take an old shirt” – Yuk! These recipes provoke trouble and fail to maintain liability for the consequences of your partner’s actions if you’ve stolen his sports shirt. These recipes also presume your shrubbin’ outside, either cotton pickin’ or in a dusty backyard and also warn about greenfly. Old mama then suggests wrapping cheesecloth around your bucket to keep it covered. I’m afraid this is all far too rural for me and I was put off by the idea of creepy-crawlies doing the backstroke in my concoctions.
I’m British – I’m traditional in my tastes. I prefer just a couple of teaspoons of dressing on my salad leaves. As Summer approaches, I’m shuddering at the thought of offering a brightly-coloured drinking vinegar, similar to creosote to friends and family. I fear this would be greeted with a feigned enthusiastic “lovely dear” and treated as a “tip-in-the-bush” when my back’s turned and a “pass the gin.”
Pineapple Vinegar – I have more taste. I don’t get it. This is as appealing as orange and coffee. On the basis of pineapple vinegar, there isn’t really any more that I can add.
As a confirmed non-shrubber I rest my case.