In January, after all the holiday and New Year festivities are over, many choose to abstain from alcohol (or at least cut back a little). But that doesn’t mean one can’t enjoy a flavorful, complex drink. A shrub, with its sweet and sour profile, is a sophisticated alternative to a boozy cocktail.
Here, juicy pears and spicy, warming ginger are combined with tart apple cider vinegar for an invigorating non-alcoholic drink. And the best part is, it’s completely customizable to your taste buds.
WHAT IS A SHRUB?
Shrubs are an old way of preserving fruit in vinegar that has found new life in the cocktail world. The result is a sweet-tart syrup that can be added to cocktails, or served on its own with a splash of club soda or seltzer. While vinegar has been around for about as long as wine (thousand of years!), drinking this particular blend of syrup made with fruit and vinegar only goes back hundreds of years, originating as a Turkish drink.
Alcohol was introduced to shrubs much later on and is not a necessary component. However—because of their popular use in cocktails recently—this is how many people are getting introduced to this old world drink. Shrubs have lots of sweet and sour flavors that make for a surprisingly complex drink on their own.
HOW TO SERVE YOUR SHRUB
To serve, top your shrubs with any of the following:
- Club soda
- Flavored bubbly water
Just make sure that whatever you top it with is well chilled; otherwise, you’re unnecessarily melting your ice too quickly and watering down your drink.
ADJUST YOUR SHRUB TO TASTE
Shrubs are also very forgiving, and can be adjusted to your taste. This particular recipe uses a slightly higher ratio of fruit than a traditional shrub, but the standard 1:1:1 ratio for fruit, sugar, and vinegar will also yield a perfectly acceptable shrub.
If you want yours to be sweeter or more sour, go ahead and adjust as you see fit! You want to enjoy what you’re drinking.
HOW LONG DOES IT TAKE TO MAKE A SHRUB?
There is some advanced planning required when making a shrub. Sadly, it cannot be mixed and drunk on the same day, or even in the same week.
Shrubs get an initial fermentation period in a cool, dark place for 48 hours, and then rest under refrigeration for up to 10 days. You are free to taste it as it sits and let your tastebuds decide when it is ready. That can mean an additional few days in the refrigerator too.
WHAT KIND OF PEARS TO USE FOR A SHRUB?
January usually brings an influx of those ubiquitous gold foil-covered pears arriving on my doorstep. And while I usually just eat through the box, finding new ways of using them, especially in cocktails, is another fun route.
Here, look for juicier, sweeter pears such as the Bartlett or Comice, but even the crisp Concorde can work. They also need to be ripe, because when they are ripe, the sweetness of the pears is at its peak, and that flavor will translate into a flavorful shrub. Otherwise, your vinegar can be overpowering, especially with the delicate flavor of pears.
The juicier the pear, the more liquid you’ll end up with. My recipe yielded 24 ounces, but it could be as much as 29 ounces if the pears are particularly juicy.
WHAT KIND OF VINEGAR TO USE FOR A SHRUB?
Shrubs in general can be made with any vinegar you have on hand, except distilled white vinegar, which is too acidic and unpleasant tasting in a shrub.
Here I use apple cider vinegar, which has a mellow acidity. I use the raw kind that has the mother at the bottom. If that’s not for you, pasteurized apple cider will work just as well!
Keep in mind that all vinegars will impart their own distinctive flavors into your shrub, so if you know you don’t like a certain flavor of vinegar, don’t use it. Again, experimentation here is fun, and if you want to try a white wine vinegar with the pears instead of apple cider, do it!
SUGGESTIONS AND SUBSTITUTIONS
If pears are no longer available where you are, the fantastic thing about shrubs is that you can use pretty much any fruit out there in your supermarket.
- In winter, citrus season is in full swing, so pick up a bag of oranges to use with the ginger. Simply zest the oranges using a vegetable peeler and juice them to combine with the sugar. Make sure no white pith remains on the zest, or it will result in a bitter drink.
- No ginger? Vanilla with pears is amazingly aromatic. Use all the seeds from one vanilla bean and throw in the pod to steep as well during the first fermentation period. Cardamom pods, slightly crushed, can also be added.
- If you prefer a sweeter drink, feel free to add additional sugar when making the shrub.
STORING YOUR SHRUB
This shrub will keep in the refrigerator for up to six months.