The Shrub Is the Simplest Sour Drink You Can Make

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

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

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

How to make a shrub

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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.