Erin Healy of Gramercy Tavern, New York City, suggests that the next time you reach for a lemon or lime to add to your cocktail, make a shrub.
What is a shrub, exactly?
Shrubs are concentrated vinegar syrups, which have either been infused or made with flavorings such as fruit, flowers, and chiles. They have been used for centuries to preserve herbs, roots, and other ingredients by making edible tinctures. The syrups are alcohol-free and have a silky texture similar to amaros or liqueurs. They also add body and depth to nonalcoholic cocktails. This segment of the drinks business was an early adopter. Recently, shrubs have been re-emerging on cocktail menus across the country as bartenders add them to brighten and acidify boozy drinks.
Healy says, “A shrub can add a new dimension to cocktail flavors, bringing them outside the usual lemon, lime or grapefruit.” A little goes a very long way. “We use no more than a quarter-ounce vinegar in a drink that would otherwise require up to one ounce of orange juice to achieve balance.”
Masahiro Urushido, the owner of NYC’s Katana Kitten bar and self-proclaimed director of deliciousness Masahiro Urushido, has created a celery-flavored shrub. You don’t want to make it yourself? You can also buy bottled shrubs.
Try these three shrubs that are top-of-the-line
Kosterina Crushed Strawberry Vinegar
Kosterina’s strawberry shrub, made from white wine vinegar imported from Greece, is sweet and tangy. It can be mixed with smoky Mezcal for a roasted berry note or added to a herbaceous Gin and tonic. $15 on Kosterina.com
Pink House Alchemy Pineapple Rosemary Shrub
This shrub is a delightful combination of sweet pineapple, tart vinegar, and woody rooster. This shrub is a perfect addition to a Pina Colada, or you can drink it alone with seltzer. $18 on pinkhousealchemy.com
Acid League Citrus Saffron Syrup
The Ultimate Cocktail Kit, a new vinegar brand product, includes this shrub. It combines saffron and two types of acid: plantain or orange. This shrub pairs well with sweeter spirits such as rum and brandy. The Ultimate Cocktail Kit is $145 at Acidleague.com
How to make a shrub
Strawberry-Chili Balsamic Shrub
This fruity shrub combines sweet strawberries with tart balsamic, smoky chilies, and smoky chilies. Add about one tablespoon of a shrub to a highball glass filled with ice (with or without the Mezcal) and top it off with soda.
Celery and Salt Shrub
Award-winning NYC bartender Masahiro Urushido makes this celery-forward, earthy shrub. It reminds us of Dr. Brown’s Cel-Ray, a popular soft drink in the Northeast. Urushido uses vodka with lime and cucumber to make a highball cocktail.