Nole and I have been featuring cocktails at Oh So Beautiful Paper for over a year and a half now, and yet we’ve barely scratched the surface of what’s possible. To wit, the Shrub! Shrubs are an old but reviving family of drinks that incorporate vinegar – yes, vinegar! – syrups to great, flavorful effect. So here’s one of our own shrubs, a sweet, fruity, and tart summer cocktail that will knock your socks off. – Andrew
Illustration by Dinara Mirtalipova for Oh So Beautiful Paper
Peach & Bourbon Shrub
2 oz Bourbon
3/4 oz Peach Shrub Syrup
3/4 oz Cherry Liqueur
1 Dash Absinthe
For the Peach Shrub Syrup: in a pot on the stovetop, combine a cup of fresh ripe peaches, pitted, chopped, and muddled; a cup of white balsamic vinegar, and a cup of granulated sugar (we used turbinado). Bring to a very brief boil, then simmer for 10-20 minutes or longer, stirring frequently and tasting occasionally. Once the sugar has melted and the vinegar has absorbed lots and lots of peach flavor, remove from the heat and strain well – probably two or three times, through a sieve or cheesecloth – and let it cool. Store it in a bottle in the refrigerator for a few weeks to a month.
For the Peach Bourbon Shrub: combine all of the ingredients in a shaker filled with lots of ice, shake well, and strain into a chilled cocktail glass. Enjoy!
A Shrub is something like a Sour, only much, much, much more intense. Vinegar usually has a much higher acidity than citrus juice, and a Shrub syrup will pick up sparkling bright fruit flavors. Our Peach & Bourbon Shrub combines the oaky smoothness of Bourbon with bright peach flavors and a mouth-puckering tartness from the Shrub syrup, along with some sweet fruit flavors from the liqueur, to balance out all that acid. I also like to add a dash of Absinthe, not so much for its own flavor, but because I’ve found that in very small doses, Absinthe can help to round out and bring together all these big, bold flavors into something coherent.
I have to confess, I cheated a bit with my Shrub syrup. Purists prefer to make their Shrubs without heat, letting fruit and sugar macerate in vinegar for days or longer in a nonreactive container in a cool, dark spot. Heating your Shrub will get you fruit flavors faster, but they won’t be as pure and crisp as the cold method. So, I plan to give that one a try, too – we’ll report back in a few weeks with the results.
The history of the Shrub is a little vague. The word “Shrub” has nothing to do with the name of the tree’s little cousin, but instead derives from the same roots as “sherbet” and “syrup” – ultimately, the Arabic sharbat, a drink, by way of Persian and Turkish. Which makes sense, because the medieval Arabs were pioneers of distillation and all sorts of resulting concoctions. People have been making drinks made from fruit and herbs macerated in vinegar for centuries, mostly as medicines, but the missing link between a vinegar drink and the Shrub Cocktail was probably American ingenuity. In Colonial America, vinegar served as the energy drink of the day. Since Americans will inevitably seek to turn just about anything they can consume into a cocktail, it probably wasn’t long before our Colonial ancestors were turning their vinegar drinks into adult vinegar drinks. No surprise that one stage of making punch – real punch – was called the sherbet or shrub, the combination of citrus oils, sugar, and citrus juice that was just missing the booze.
So, long story short, there’s a vast world of Shrubs out there to try. Stay tuned for more.
Photo Credits: Nole Garey for Oh So Beautiful Paper