Colonial Era Cocktails: How To Make Shrubs

“Shrubs,” Time Travel for Your Taste Buds

No, not the ornamental ones you may have in your front yard, but the tasty beverage with roots that go back to a time in American history before modern refrigeration. Awe puns…

The shrub drink has experienced a small resurgence in the past few years, as mixologists rediscover old bar manuals and techniques lost during the prohibition era. It’s an exciting time for the bar world—not only are more craft distilleries popping up around the country, but there is also a new emphasis on returning to the glory days of the cocktail. Most modern cocktails tend to use lime or lemon to provide an acidic balance, but there are many other ways to achieve this. One such technique is the shrub.

Shrubs, or as people during America’s colonial period would say, “drinking vinegar," are easy to make and will keep in the refrigerator for up to six months. The technique was used to preserve fresh fruit in the days before modern refrigeration. Three ingredients are all you need to get started: fruit, sugar and vinegar. The end result is a syrup that can be used in both alcoholic or non-alcoholic sodas or cocktails, and the flavor options are endless. The method I prefer is a cold process as the addition of heat, while faster, tends to compromise that “fresh from the garden” flavor.

As many of us who call San Diego County our home know, strawberries in the spring are extremely fresh and packed with flavor. This recipe will allow you to incorporate this delicious taste into your cocktails all the way into late fall.

  • 1 cup sliced local strawberries
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1 cup apple cider vinegar
  1. In a large mason jar or stainless steel bowl, mash the strawberries using a wooden spoon or muddler while mixing in the sugar. Let sit in the fridge for at least 24 hours.
  2. Strain out the juice using a strainer or chinois into a jar or glass bottle, pressing down on the strawberries to extract as much juice as possible.
  3. Add vinegar, seal and shake to incorporate.

The shrub is ready for use immediately, although a quick taste will show you how strong the vinegar flavor is at first. The interesting thing about a shrub is that the vinegar flavor will begin to mellow out as the shrub ages – meaning if you give it a week or two, more strawberry freshness will be present.

Don't want to wait? Come join us at Level2 where we’re always mixing up unique and flavoral cocktails with the season's freshest ingredients. Also, check back on our blog again soon as we have some great drink recipes, including fresh summer cocktails, coming your way.