Spring has sprung, or at least begun to sneak into our afternoons, and it’s time to think about shrubs. When warm weather begins, I spend a lot of time thinking about the trimming, digging, and planting that need to be done. I don’t manage to get to the part where I get out in the yard to do something about it though. When we have a perfect sunny, warm afternoon, I find myself too busy sitting outside having a drink with a friend. Luckily, there’s more than one kind of shrub. One is on my to-do list. The other can be in my drink. I love a happy coincidence! I can think about shrubs, enjoy the outdoors, and relax all at the same time.
It seems like every restaurant in my neighborhood has a new list of specialty cocktails for each season. I love reading these lists. The names are clever. The pairings of gin, tequila, and rum with fresh fruit, citrus juice, and fresh herbs sound sooooo refreshing. Of course, I order one. Then I take a drink. More than 90% of the time my enjoyment ends there. Most of these cocktails are too sweet for me.
I don’t object to desserts, but I don’t like sweet drinks – tea, lemonade, soda, flavored water, and coffee drinks do not appeal. I don’t like the way they taste. They don’t refresh and they leave me thirsty. That’s not to say a slight drizzle of honey won’t improve a drink. It might. But the standard is simple syrup…and plenty of it.
Shrubs appeal to me because of the tang of vinegar. If you must use sweet, at least balance it with acid. A few years ago when vinegar bars became popular, I eagerly anticipated the arrival of the trend in my city. That never happened. But a more subtle inclusion of vinegar sometimes appears on a cocktail menu in the form of a shrub.
A shrub is a syrup made of vinegar, botanicals, and yes, sugar. Historically, it was a way of preserving fruit. Taste-wise, it is meant to fall on the acidic side. If you want an even more tangy shrub, you can easily make one at home.
Most shrubs are made using apple cider, white wine, or red wine vinegar, but you can also use balsamic. A blend of balsamic vinegar and sweet cherries sounds delicious to me. Some recipes I’ve seen cut the balsamic with apple cider vinegar. Red wine vinegar would be worth a try as well. I’m describing a shrub that feels more like fall.
How about something lighter for spring? Pineapple, white wine vinegar, and rosemary might fit the bill. And you don’t have to make it at home. You can buy it in a bottle from Pink House Alchemy.
If I’m ordering, I’m going to have to include a bottle of cardamom syrup as well. It’s too intriguing to pass up. And to continue with this digression, I keep wanting to create a sassafras tea granita. Sounds like I’m heading for a spring porch party!
Anyway, you can make a shrub at home by cooking fruit, vinegar, and sugar together or by letting the fruit and sugar macerate, adding the vinegar and letting it sit for a few days on the counter or in the refrigerator before straining.
Tomato based shrubs can be used to make bloody mary-like drink. A blueberry shrub can be used for a daiquiri-like drink. And no alcohol is required for a refreshing shrub beverage. A little seltzer will do the trick.
It seems like it’s time for me to grab some fresh fruit and a few bottles of vinegar and do some flavor experiments. Until I get them right, I’ve learned that I can order those fancy named specialty cocktails without the simple syrup. I don’t know why I never thought to request that before, but I tried it the other night and enjoyed my drink much more.
Sitting in the sun smelling fresh cut grass and sipping on refreshing tangy drinks with a small group of friends sounds heavenly. I may have to do it several days in a row. We only get a few weeks between too cold and too hot and humid. We have to make the most of them! Cheers!
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