Everything You Need to Know about Summertime Shrub Cocktails

No, this is not a cocktail made out of a bush. Now that we’ve gotten that out of the way, we can get back to discussing the vinegar-based beverage that bartenders fondly like to refer to as a shrub. Whether you’re in need of an inventive cocktail, a refreshing punch bowl, or an easy backyard drink for the kids, a shrub is the answer to your needs. 

Shrubs are an acidic beverage where the acidity is derived from the addition of vinegar. To your tongue, however, the acidity is low enough that the flavor registers as sour, tart, or tangy.

Don’t worry if you’re not the biggest fan of sour beverages. Over the centuries, creative barmen have discovered how to concoct both sweet and savory versions of shrub recipes.

A Shrub History

Unlike most cocktails, we can pinpoint the origins of the shrub. They are the brainchild of enterprising pirates. Yes, it was thanks to smugglers around the time of colonial America that we now have this delicious beverage. This happened because, in order to effectively smuggle rum and avoid detection by privateers, pirates would sometimes sink their rum barrels underwater.

However, this meant that seawater would enter the porous containers and taint the alcohol. To make the taste palatable, and therefore be able to sell their products, pirates would add fresh fruit and fruit juice to the mixture which would ferment and sweeten the entire barrel of salty rum with fruit flavor. The saltwater, it turned out, had an unexpected benefit: it was acidic enough to preserve the fruit and prevent it from spoiling on the long sea voyages.

Once people got a taste for this cocktail born out-of-necessity, things got a little more sophisticated. In the 17th century England, vinegars became a popular option to preserve berries for off-season consumption.

This tradition came Stateside in the colonial era when colonists began to also use the liquid in which the berries were preserved as drinking vinegar. Eventually, they began to add water, soda water, club soda, or alcohol to make this healthy, tasty beverage into something surprising and refreshing.

Modern Shrubs

Though shrubs fell out of fashion in the 20th century, by the 2000s, they came roaring back into popularity. However, instead of being relegated to a self-serve punch bowl, shrubs have gained a new level of sophistication in their renaissance.

Today, almost any variety of fruit can be used, not just berries, though a blackberry shrub cocktail is one of the best around. Besides sweet additions, herbs and spices like rosemary, basil, and ginger are also making appearances, especially in the form of ginger beer.

Even the kinds of vinegar are becoming more sophisticated. Instead of just white vinegar, people are using varieties such as balsamic vinegar, apple cider vinegar, and wine vinegars. Apple cider vinegar in particular adds a bright flavor, especially when transitioned into a vinegar-based syrup.

Whatever your mood, a shrub is a perfect option. If you want sweet, you can have it. Savory? Why not. Non-alcoholic is also perfectly acceptable. Plus, if you want to step up your game you can add a splash of St. Germain or a bit of white wine.

If you’re not sure where to start, here are four tempting recipes for shrub drinks to show you where the possibilities can take you.

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With Food and Love

A little bit of spice and everything nice, this pink drink is an excellent choice for the holiday season.

Get the recipe here.

2. Raspberry, Rhubarb, + Rose Shrub

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The Kitchen McCabe

When you combine raspberries and rose together, you get the color and taste of love.

Get the recipe here.

3. Apple Shrub

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Honestly Yum

For those days when you’re sipping on an iced drink and wishing for cooler weather, the apple shrub is here to help.

 Tasting deliciously like tart apple juice, the flavor takes to the simple syrup and vinegar well. Get the recipe here.

4. Raspberry Shrub

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My Baking Addiction

A fresh sprig of mint makes everything that much more refreshing.

Get the recipe here.

5. Meyer Lemon Shrub

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This Mama Cooks

This recipe takes everything you love about lemons, from the lemon juice right down to the lemon peel, and turns it into something delicious over crushed ice.

A dash of lime juice and ginger ale really brings this cocktail to life. Find the recipe here.