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Today: Michael Dietsch, author of Shrubs, shares a wintry shrub with staying power -- plus 5 ways to use it.
Shrubs! The simple beverage made from fruit, vinegar, and sugar is a trendy topic right now in the cocktail world, but the concept is older than many people think. Vinegar as a beverage dates back to no later than the Roman Empire, though it's quite likely we've been drinking vinegar for at least as long as we've been drinking wine. The shrub's ancestors originated in Persia in the sixteenth century and came to Europe via trading ships.
Though the concept of drinking vinegar seems alien to a lot of people, I liken it to drinking a tart lemonade. A well-made shrub won't make your mouth pucker; instead, the vinegar provides backbone and a complex tartness that's balanced by the fruit and sugar.
Shrubs mixed with either still or sparkling water were among our first soft drinks; I find they make great drinks for people who choose to abstain from alcohol, but they're also great when paired with booze.
Now that the holidays are upon us, I like to make my Cranberry-Apple Shrub (recipe below) and use it to liven up a number of drinks -- it's good for both holiday parties and quiet nights at home.
Here are five ways to use this -- and any -- shrub:
1. Just add soda water.
The easiest way to serve shrub is also one of the oldest, and it's a great pick-me-up when you just need a refreshing drink. Take 1 or 2 ounces of Cranberry-Apple Shrub and pour it into a tall glass full of ice. Top with about 3 ounces of either soda or tonic water.
For a boozier variation on this theme, top the shrub with 3 ounces of sparkling wine instead of sparkling water. Shrub plus fizzy wine is a great way to toast guests at a holiday cocktail party.
2. Amp up your Toddy.
Grab a nutmeg and a Microplane grater! Heat up some water on the stovetop, pour an ounce of shrub into a mug, and top with hot water. A bit of bourbon, rum, or brandy wouldn't be out of place here, but that's optional. Grate some nutmeg over the top, put up your feet, and remind yourself how to breathe and relax.
More: Do your cocktails justice and serve them in these pretty vintage glasses.
3. Bring back the Cosmo (and improve it).
I have a couple of cocktail recipes in the book that call for cranberry shrubs. One, the Garland, uses my Cranberry Sauce Shrub, but the Cranberry-Apple would work well in it, too. It's a simple mix of 2 ounces London dry gin, 1 ounce shrub, and 1/2 ounce sloe gin. The other recipe specifically calls for the Cranberry-Apple; it's a variation on, of all things, the Cosmopolitan, with 1 1/2 ounces citrus vodka, 3/4 ounce Cointreau, 1/2 ounce shrub, and 1/4 ounce fresh lime juice. I don't like to admit how tasty it is.
4. Introduce your shrub to tequila and lime juice.
Shrubs, being versatile, are great for roll-your-own cocktail concoctions, where you just kind of figure things out on the fly. One of my favorite combinations -- which I think you'll enjoy -- is a mix of tequila, lime juice, Cranberry-Apple Shrub, and a little agave nectar. Think of it as a tarted-up margarita.
5. Turn it into a childhood favorite -- booze optional.
Here's an idea that's just fun. Take a tall tumbler and add 2 scoops of ice cream, sorbet, or sherbet, in the flavor of your choice. Add 2 ounces of Cranberry-Apple Shrub. Optionally, you can add an ounce of booze: rum, bourbon, Grand Marnier, or Benedictine would be lovely. Top with soda water and serve. Drink it with a straw and pretend you're 10 again.
Makes about 12 ounces
3 medium apples, quartered (no need to seed or core)
1 cup cranberries
1 cup apple cider vinegar
1/2 cup turbinado sugar
Want more Shrub recipes? Michael's new book is full of them, plus a handful of history, too. And it makes for en excellent holiday gift.
Ice cream float photo by Sarah Shatz; all other photos by James Ransom