Amanda and I were in Ohio over Christmas and we spent one evening visiting our friends Tyler Machovina and Erin Carlson. They had us over for dinner, and upon arriving Erin greeted us with a fantastic selection of vinegar shrubs.
A shrub is a beverage made from fruit, some sort of acid, and a sugar. A vinegar shrub uses vinegar as the acidic component. They were popular in colonial America as a means of preserving fruit without refrigeration. The vinegar breaks down the fruit and the sugar sweetens everything up a bit. The result is a tangy, sweet, complex mixture that is very refreshing when mixed with soda water.
Erin had four different shrubs made with different fruits, herbs, flowers, and spices. I decided after one sip that I had to make some of my own.
When we went home a week later, I got to work. I did some research on shrub components and compared them with my notes from Erin. Then, I picked up some blackberries from the store, made sure I had enough Bragg’s Apple Cider Vinegar on-hand, and heated up the local honey that had crystalized in my cabinet.
I mixed everything up and put it in the fridge for a few weeks. I tasted it first at the end of January, then sealed it back up for all of February (Whole 30 month), and forgot about it until the middle of March.
When I tasted it a few days ago, the flavors had come together swimmingly: The vinegar mellowed out, the blackberries had totally broken down, and the honey smoothed everything out. Here’s the recipe I used:
Blackberry, Honey, and Vinegar Shrub
- 1 cup whole blackberries, washed
- 1 cup Apple Cider Vinegar (I use Bragg’s)
- 1/2 cup honey, heated up so that it mixes into the vinegar better
Pour everything together into a quart mason jar. Put the lid on and shake it up. Put it in the fridge for at least a month, shaking it again when you remember it is there.
To serve: Mix the shrub 50/50 with club soda or sparkling water. Make sure to filter the shrub through a strainer. Add ice and stir. Garnish with a fresh mint sprig.
If you want to make it boozy, this would mix well with rum: 2oz rum to 1oz shrub.
I’m eager to try variations as soon as the weather gets warm again. Here is what’s on my short list:
- Trying different sugars: Turbinado, brown sugar, molasses, etc.
- Different fruits: Peaches, raspberries, apricots, rhubarb, orange peels, cherries, plums, strawberries, limes, and lemons. I’m going to pick things that are in season to maximize flavor.
- Different vinegars: Balsamic, red wine, and rice vinegars.
- Herbs and spices: Lavender, mint, juniper, vanilla, ginger, and rose hips.
Michael Dietsch has two different methods for making shrubs over at Serious Eats:
- Heating the sugar and fruit on the stove before adding the vinegar.
- A two-step cold method
Check out his methods over at Serious Eats. I’ll probably give them both a try, too.
If you want a faster way of breaking down the fruit and infusing the flavors without evaporating out the vinegar, you could try a sous vide infusion. I’ll probably give this a try, too, and report back.