Making Shrubs – The Beet Goes On
It’s that time of year when fresh produce becomes a precious commodity and people rush to preserve many wonderful flavors. From pickling, to canning, to freezing, many people have their own tried and true recipes for keeping admired flavors fresh.
One of the best ways to preserve a flavor in liquid form is to make a shrub. This time honored approach dates back to the 15th century when Englishmen used to mix alcohol, often brandy, with fresh citrus and citrus peel. A few centuries later Colonial Americans put their twist on the shrub by utilizing vinegar for its preservative qualities and, voila, one of my favorite approaches to flavor preservation was created.
As a bartender, the majority of my job consists of turning flavors we find in every day life into liquid form. While I never go for an exact replication, I try to capture the best characteristics of the product. Whether it’s a blackberry thyme puree or a mint syrup, many of your favorite flavors can make their way from your plate into your glass.
Using different vinegars yields different flavors. If you wish to create a softer, gentler shrub, such as a strawberry, an apple cider vinegar that is lighter in acidity is ideal. What about a plum shrub? Why not play up the Asian notes and use rice wine vinegar? The possibilities and combinations are endless.
There are two methods typically used when making a shrub: one hot, one cold. Both begin with equal parts sugar and vinegar of choice. Let’s say you want to make an apple shrub for a fall whiskey cocktail. Begin with one cup of, you guessed it, apple cider vinegar and brown sugar which will highlight the rich warm flavors of the apples. Slice your apples and let them sit in the vinegar and sugar mixture for two weeks in a dry, cold place. Rotate daily to blend the flavors evenly and after a fortnight you will have a delicious apple mixture that will complement any bourbon.
Now that you have some info on shrubs get out there and start experimenting with the amazing flavors of fall. They are a blast to make and even more fun to mix with your favorite spirits!