Friday, June 22, 2012

'We want....a shrub(bery)!'

Ahh shrubs.  They can do one of two things:

1)  Help provide a sense of structure and/or define barriers within landscapes
2)  Elevate some cocktails to the next level

I shall focus on the latter and leave the leafy, decorative variety to the Knights who say 'Ni!!'

The production and use of shrubs has a long history, initially for non-alcoholic/medicinal purposes, but eventually to follow with consumption in cocktails.  With roots in the 18th century here in North America, a shrub in its simplest and most common form is an acidic concoction made from fruits macerated with sugar and combined with vinegar (either comprised naturally from the fruit itself, or as an additional ingredient).  The predecessors of shrubs were of Middle Eastern and/or South Asian origin, although these sharbats (as referred to in India) were more or less syrups made from a variety of fruits, extracts, and herbs....and didn't include the acidic kick, nor preservative effects, of vinegar.

The composition of, as well as applications for, shrubs is rather diverse.  In its simplest form, a shrub is a combination of fruit, sugar, and vinegar...although more complex variations incorporate a range of fruits (berries, apricot, citrus, persimmon, etc.), all types of vinegars (balsamic, white, apple cider), sugars (white, turbinado, demerara, brown) and supplemental tweaks such as teas, chili peppers, and even some vegetables (beets, carrots, even tomatoes).  Uses range from them paired simply with sodas as a refreshing, effervescent non-alcoholic drink, while others have integrated them as compliments to various foods or as sauces (blintzes, yogurt, ice cream).  But, of course, the focus here is on mingling with alcohol...and a straight-forward application of a base spirit, shrub, liqueur, and bitters can lend a subtle, yet distinct complexity to many a cocktail.

While I had certainly tried a number of cocktails made with shrubs, and had read a fair amount about batching them up, I still had not made one myself.  The brainstorming for a combination of ingredients began with a flurry of ideas, but ultimately settled on one that I hadn't yet come across myself...a pear shrub.  With the aid of some great posts and insight from the likes of Michael Dietsch, Frederick Yarm, Alexander Kern, and Michael Lazar, I set off on a journey to secure a shrub(bery) of my own...

Pear Allspice Shrub
2 c ripe Anjou pears, medium dice (about 1 medium)
1 c turbinado sugar
1 c white (refined) sugar
2 c apple cider vinegar
12-15 allspice berries, lightly cracked

Add diced pear and sugar to mixing bowl, lightly muddle to incorporate sugar throughout the mixture, cover, and let macerate in the fridge for 24-28 hours.  Add the freshly cracked allspice along with the vinegar, mix, and return to fridge for another 5-7 days, stirring once daily.  Strain the mixture thru a collander and then thru cheesecloth to remove most of the solids.  Store in an airtight container in the fridge.

Pear allspice shrub (pre-filtered)

The end result was quite promising.  While the distinct aroma and acidity of the cider vinegar were among the most prominent qualities that I first picked up, it mellowed very quickly, shifting to the sweet taste of the pears...they took on an almost roasted character, accentuated by the subtle fragrant notes of the allspice.  That being said, I did tread lightly with the amount of allspice in the recipe and could have upped the proportion a bit without overwhelming the end product.

In terms of its use, Frederick passed along one of his simple/standard approaches with shrubs and I applied it as such accordingly.

Shrub aperitif
2 oz Dolin dry vermouth
1/2 oz pear allspice shrub 

Stir with ice, strain into a chilled rocks glass with a large cube of ice and garnish with a citrus twist.

This was a solid use indeed as the botanicals of the vermouth harmonized nicely with the sweet spice of the shrub, and the slight acidic bite at the end was just enough as not to be overpowering.  And as an alternative, Fred's suggestion of a dry sherry would probably work just as well (if not better), tho without any on hand, that would have to wait.

Within the more complex realm of combining a shrub with a base spirit and other components (liqueurs, juices, bitters), I came up with a number of ideas, but found a few that worked quite nicely.  The first, and perhaps favorite, was a rum base accentuated with a bit of maraschino to help pick up on the fruitiness of the shrub.  Thanks again to Fred's tip (in turn from Ryan Lotz) on this approach...I tried it both with and without the maraschino and definitely noticed a difference with the pear brought more forward with its integration.  I paired it with an equal amount of sweet vermouth (Punt e Mes) and a dash of Bittercube's cherry bark vanilla bitters to further the spice in the shrub.  Along with a touch of bright acid from some lemon to balance the added sweetness of the maraschino and vermouth, this was the result.

1 1/2 oz Cruzan Single Barrel Estate
3/4 oz pear allspice shrub
1/2 oz maraschino liqueur
1/2 oz Punt e Mes
1/4 oz lemon juice
1 dash Bittercube Cherry Bark Vanilla

Stir all ingredients with ice until well chilled and strain into an old fashioned glass with large cube of ice.  Garnish with wide swath of lemon zest.


The second cocktail I came up with focused squarely on fruit, with apple brandy providing the base, and Dubonnet rouge hints of grape and a very subtle bitterness.  It paired very well with Angostura and left a nice tang on the finish.

Orchard Harvest
2 oz Laird's apple brandy
3/4 oz pear allspice shrub
3/4 oz Dubonnet rouge
2 dashes Angostura

Stir all ingredients with ice until well chilled, strain into a chilled cocktail coupe and garnish with wide strip of lemon zest.

(pic and another cocktail or two up in short order)


  1. Dammit! I was going to post about shrubs and make a Monty Python reference....

    I'll just have to settle for this gastrique recipe.

    1. I'm sure Canada can use a shrub/Monty Python post of their fire away, but nice gastrique nonetheless