Drinks

How to Make Shrubs (aka Drinking Vinegars) Without a Recipe

August 17, 2015

Here at Food52, we love recipes—but do we always use them? Of course not. Because once you realize you don't always need a recipe, you'll make your favorite dishes a lot more often.

Today: A zingy, fruity drinking vinegar that's all a matter of ratio.

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If you've never had a shrub before, it's just about the most refreshing thing you can think to drink—especially in the summer. It starts with a syrup that’s a combination of vinegar, fruit, and sugar. The fruit tastes like its truest self and the vinegar cuts right through it. Add it to a glass, then bubbles to make it bright. The alcohol is optional, but awfully good.

You can make a shrub two ways: the hot way (fresh fruit simmered in simple syrup) and the cold way (fresh fruit tossed with sugar and left to sit for a few days). Shrub purists may tell you that a shrub made the hot way is not a true shrub—and maybe they're right. But true shrub or not, it's delicious and a fast way to get a fruity, vinegary syrup that works just as well in a drink as a more authentic, cold process shrub. If you're short on time, the hot way is a good approach to take; if you can be a little more leisurely, try the cold process—I do prefer the flavor of a cold process shrub, which is a little less jammy and more true to the fruit in flavor.

Here's how you do it: 

1. Gather ingredients.

Shrubs are a matter of ratio: The sweet spot (the sweet-tart spot, that is) is a 1:1:1 ratio of fruit, sugar, and vinegar. A good place to start for cold process shrub is 1 pound chopped fruit, 2 cups sugar, and 2 cups vinegar; for the heated process, go for 1 pound fruit, 1 cup sugar, 1 cup water, and 1 cup vinegar. Each method should yield about 3 cups of shrub syrup.

Ingredients

The fruit and flavorings

You can make shrubs at any time of year with nearly any kind of fruit—from summer berries and peaches (both of which I have made with great success) to apples, grapefruits, and pomegranates in the winter. I would not recommend the heated process with watermelon, however, which I tried (and which, I'm afraid to say, made my apartment smell wholly of stomach acid. Gross). A good rule of thumb: The heated process will work well for anything you would make jam out of. For melons, stick to the cold process.

More: There are ways to get a watermelon shrub! Try Louisa Shafia's Genius method.

If you want to make a citrus shrub, zest the citrus peel off first and use your fingers to rub the zest into the sugar until it's really fragrant—this way, you don't lose any of those good oils. Then just chop up the fruit itself, toss it with the zesty sugar, and let it sit as you would any other shrub.

That said, it doesn't just have to be a fruit shrub! Add grated fresh ginger, fresh herbs, or spices (like whole peppercorns, cardamom pods, or bay leaves) to either the simple syrup (hot process) or the sugar-fruit mixture (cold process).

The vinegar

Most vinegars will work in shrubs, but consider how your fruit will pair with the flavor of the vinegar you select. I would steer clear of plain white vinegar, which is too intensely sharp. Cider vinegar is the one I use most, but wine vinegar, Champagne vinegar, or coconut vinegar also work very well. Balsamic adds an amazing depth to berry shrubs in particular, but you only need a splash. The rest of the vinegar can be cider or wine vinegar.

The sugar

You can use white or brown; white sugar will really let the fruit flavor shine, while the brown sugar will add another element of flavor. I haven’t yet, but you could also experiment with honey, maple syrup, and agave.

Some combinations that sound particularly appealing:

  • strawberries + white sugar + red wine vinegar and a splash of balsamic vinegar 
  • blueberries + thinly sliced ginger + cider vinegar
  • nectarine + peppercorn + brown sugar + white wine vinegar
  • peach + cardamom pods + honey + cider vinegar
  • pomegranate + peppercorn + white sugar + red wine vinegar
  • pear + star anise + brown sugar + white wine vinegar
  • red plum + cardamom + brown sugar + white wine vinegar (which is what I made here)

Macerate

2. Combine the sugar and the fruit, and then add vinegar.

For a cold process shrub, assemble your fruit (sliced or mashed gently) in a bowl, and toss it with sugar.  

Let this mixture sit, covered securely with a dishtowel, on your kitchen counter for about 2 days. Stir once a day. It should start to look very juicy. After 2 days, strain the mixture into a measuring cup, discard the fruit, then combine the syrup with approximately an equal amount of vinegar (again, your choice, but cider vinegar is a good place to start)—but do this slowly, tasting as you go so that you get a shrub that is just sharp enough for you—especially with a zingier fruit like raspberries or citrus. That's it! Pour it into a jar and stick it in the fridge.

More: Shrubs could be your signature cocktail. Here's how to find yours!

For a hot process, make a simple syrup (equal parts sugar and water) in a medium saucepan over low heat, stirring until the sugar is completely dissolved. Add your sliced fruit and bring the syrup-fruit mixture to a low simmer. Let it bubble away until the syrup has become the color of the fruit and the fruit looks tired. Stir in the vinegar and bring the mixture just to a simmer; strain out and discard the fruit (or serve it over vanilla ice cream), and pour the shrub into a jar. Keep it in the fridge.

Vinegar

 

3. Drink up! 

Fill a tall glass with ice, pour in a splash of shrub, and top it off with seltzer water, stirring a bit to incorporate the shrub. Or add a shot of booze: I like gin and found it to be delicious with a strawberry-balsamic shrub, but whiskey or vodka would also be delicious. Or do away with the seltzer water altogether and substitute Champagne or another sparkling wine instead.

No matter which process you use, a shrub will keep for a long time in your refrigerator—I would count on a couple of months at least (though I've not yet had one stick around more than a month, so I couldn't say for sure). The shrub should NOT ferment, bubble, or become slimy. If it does, scold it, throw it away, and start anew.

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Photos by Alpha Smoot

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56 Comments

Emily B. July 3, 2018
I’m way late in the game on this one - but - do you think you could do this with tart red cherries? I have some frozen from last summer from an old neighbor’s tree. Maybe with a little more sugar to counter the tartness of the cherries? What vinegar and sugar options would you recommend?
 
Christopher P. August 20, 2018
Done it, very tasty. I used lime zest and almond extract with white sugar and cider vinegar.
 
L.E. May 17, 2018
Probably a dumb question, but I’m going to ask anyway. I have put strawberries in sugar and got juice, but there is still a lot of sugar in the bowl. Do I add the sugar in with the juice and then add the vinegar or just keep the just and leave the sugar and fruit solids?
 
Ellen June 3, 2018
It's really a matter of preference and how sweet you want your shrub to be. If it was my shrub, I'd stir the fruit/sugar/juice and let it sit a bit longer to dissolve the sugar and maybe get a bit more juice. I've found shrubs to be pretty flexible though, so adding the sugar and juice to the vinegar would be fine, but so would leaving the sugar behind with the fruit solids.
 
Vaishali M. February 10, 2018
Lovely idea! Now, what if I want to make shrubs with juice instead of the fruit? How will that work?
 
Author Comment
Caroline L. February 10, 2018
Hmm... It won't quite be the same (it's very intensely fruity) but you could experiment by adding a little splash of vinegar (like red wine vinegar or tarragon vinegar) to a bit of juice (like tart cherry) and topping it off with soda water.
 
Rick G. October 24, 2017
i've tried 5 different commercial shrubs and ginger was my favorite. i can easily imagine my ranking might change as i make my own. my question for the community is in making ginger shrub..... proportions. fine grating? medium grate size?
 
Mark S. July 13, 2017
I have made a couple of batches. I like to heat the vinegar to infuse herbs. I tried black cherries and pineapple with rosemary in red wine vinegar. Will use just a couple of sprigs next time. Got a black cherry and plum with thyme in red wine vinegar and black pepper brewing now. This is a great way to be creative with flavors and ingredients. Great article!<br />I
 
Les K. July 8, 2017
Has anyone tried freezing the finished shrub? I want my rhubarb shrub available in small amounts all winter long.
 
Rick G. October 24, 2017
you're killin me...... a rhubarb shrub, if the rhubard flavor does indeed come through, would be heaven<br /><br />
 
Rick G. October 24, 2017
you're killin me...... a rhubarb shrub, if the rhubard flavor does indeed come through, would be heaven<br /><br />
 
Charity July 5, 2017
Your article referred to the Alice Waters book containing interesting recipe for shrubs - https://food52.com/blog/9123-a-week-s-worth-of-simple-food-with-alice-waters - instead of using vinegar, you are making it with shrub - also using apple cores and skins and not the fruit that would be wasted. "Apple Peel Cider Vinegar" from MY PANTRY <br />
 
Ezio M. May 17, 2017
Has anyone used an ISI Whipper (or the like) to make a shrub? I wonder if the several week long steep could be cut drastically short using the rapid infusion method.
 
meet Y. April 27, 2017
Can the leftover solids be used in anything afterwards? I made a rhubarb shrub and was hoping I could use the leftover rhubarb in a quick bread, muffin, scone?
 
Laura415 April 27, 2017
Absolutely. If you used raw rhubarb and followed this method simply taste the leftover rhubarb mash and if it tastes good then add it to your quick bread or muffin recipe. Be sure to drain it well so it doesn't mess up the wet to dry ratio in your quick bread recipe. Other things I've done with leftover fruit in shrubs is to cook it and season with sugar (if needed) to make a refrigerator jam. I've made sauces and toppings for other desserts and used it for yogurt mix in. Use it to flavor a second ferment in your kombucha. The list goes on and on:)
 
Nancy C. March 2, 2017
I just tried this with interesting results: had a tablespoon of blueberry jam left in a jar. Added a 1/2 teaspoon-ish of cider vinegar. Screwed the lid on tightly, then shook till well combined. Poured into a double old-fashioned glass with ice then added plain Perrier. Stirred with a spoon. Delish. Has anyone tried this with jarred jams or preserves? What about rosemary? Too powerful? Love to hear back as I gave up wine for Lent and I have to try something!<br />
 
Rick G. October 24, 2017
rosemary is pretty intense/concentrated. can you imagine tarragon's intensity?<br />
 
Katz February 24, 2017
I've been making my own fruit vinegars and as a foodie-Holic , I'm now inspired to use the shrubbery techniques. Cheers to food chemistry!
 
Vincent Q. October 22, 2016
Can the shrub be kept out of the fridge?
 
booglix October 22, 2016
yes, but the flavor stays fresher over time if kept in the fridge.
 
Becky E. October 26, 2016
I have had great success by canning them in a hot water bath- then they can stay out of the fridge for up to a year but still taste just as fresh...
 
Patrise H. October 15, 2016
my grandmother made something she called Raspberry Vinegar and it was a deep red syrup of mashed raspberries, sugar and vinegar that set for a few days and then was strained through cheesecloth, decanted into stoppered bottles. It was a treat all through the year to have it mixed with water, ice tea, Vernor's ginger ale, or poured straight over ice cream. I never heard her call it a 'shrub' and never saw a recipe for anything like it until recently. thank You!
 
Rick G. October 24, 2017
vernor's used to be so much better
 
bonnie M. October 14, 2016
Does anyone know if you could use Stevia in place of the sugar?
 
LoriS September 1, 2016
I'm not trying to be a wise guy and I'm definitely not a shrub or math expert but I think your math is off for the cold process. If you want a 1:1:1 ratio, shouldn't you be adding half the amount of vinegar rather than an equal amount to the fruit syrup? In other words, if the syrup (1 part fruit + 1 part sugar) = 2 cups (2 parts), adding 1 cup vinegar, rather than 2, will give you 3 equal parts. I tried doing it your way once (made the same math mistake) and all I could taste was the vinegar. My recommendation would be to begin at 2 parts syrup to 1 part vinegar and add more vinegar if desired.
 
Laura415 October 26, 2016
I do it by taste because the sweetness of the fruit varies widely, but your math is right I think. I always add less vinegar than sugar even when doing it by taste.
 
Nancy C. March 2, 2017
I'm with you. I think it's too much vinegar, and I drink cider vinegar daily, so it's not the flavor of vinegar, but that it can easily over-power the fruit. <br /><br /><br />
 
Asha June 28, 2017
Um, the recipe is pretty clear that is is one part of each initial ingredient: one cup fruit, one cup sugar, one cup vinegar.
 
Jeff August 9, 2018
I, too, was pondering the ratio question. The suggested formula is 1 pound of fruit and then 2 cups of sugar and 2 cups of vinegar. Will 1 pound of fruit yield 2 cups? Or should the ratios be by weight? Since this is a recipe without a recipe, I guess it's pretty flexible and I'll wing it. I'll assume the same number of cups of fruit and sugar, and then start easy on the vinegar, adding later if needed.
 
Jessica July 17, 2016
Would you use pasteurized or unpasteurized cider vinegar??
 
Laura415 July 17, 2016
I use unpasteurized but either is fine. Just stay away from white distilled vinegar. It's harsh tasting and made from GMO corn. I use white wine, apple cider and red wine vinegars depending on the fruit. Red wine vinegar with blackberries and thyme. That one was super good.
 
Becky E. May 5, 2016
I'm wondering if you could can the shrub once it's finished instead of putting it in the fridge (either hot water bath or pressure)? I would like to make some to keep around the house but don't have alot of room in my fridge...
 
Author Comment
Caroline L. May 5, 2016
Great question. I don't have a lot of experience canning, but this site has some information: http://www.canningacrossamerica.com/2012/07/16/strawberries-vinegar-shrub-a-beverage-revelation/
 
Laura415 July 17, 2016
Absolutely! I have canned shrubs in mason jars and in heat sealing bottles. They are completely shelf stable. It's the same time in the water bath as jelly/jam. 10 minutes after the water comes to a rolling boil. Cool down in the water. Seals and preserves perfectly.
 
Becky E. October 26, 2016
Thanks Laura!! I just recently finished up a ton of shrubs for christmas gifts (along with some preserves of course)- and they canned beautifully! Right now I've got 10+ cans of each of 1) plum cardamom (made with honey & regular sugar); 2) cherry peppercorn; 3) pear ginger (my hubby's favorite!); and will be making some watermelon (maybe watermelon basil?) soon with our late ripening watermelons. I love experimenting with the shrubs & everything was made with fresh hand-picked ingredients from our garden for a friends. For the plum, I tried three other combos before I settled on the plum cardamom...
 
Laura415 October 26, 2016
Those sound awesome! I've done the plum and cardamom myself:) Pear ginger sounds like one I want to try since I just found inexpensive organic ginger at Costco. Let me know how the watermelon comes out. I would definitely use the mildest vinegar I could find. Perhaps the white wine or some other light one. I also used white sugar for shrubs that I want the color to remain pretty. (like maybe for the watermelon:)
 
Meghan M. July 17, 2017
How do you know that they are the appropriate acidity? I'm very new to canning and concerned about getting the ratios correct. Thanks in advance for the tips.
 
Della R. May 5, 2016
These combinations sound delicious! I haven't used spices or herbs yet... At what part of the process do you add them? At the beginning with the fruit-sugar combination?
 
Author Comment
Caroline L. May 5, 2016
Hi Della—yes! You would add them with the fruit and sugar. Tear up the herbs a bit and rub them into the sugar to help release their oils; as for spices, you can just break them up coarsely and mix them in.
 
Kathryn L. August 27, 2015
Strawberry-rhubarb!
 
booglix August 23, 2015
I've made lots of kinds of shrubs - last year I made eight flavors for our wedding and gave them out as favors. Delicious! But I prefer the cold-process method where you combine the fruit and vinegar first and add sugar after. <br /><br />Combine fruit and vinegar to cover, and leave out on the counter, covered, for a few days (usually about three, but it depends on the temperature and the fruit). Then strain and add sugar to taste. You can shake and swirl to make the sugar dissolve faster, or warm it slightly, but it will dissolve in time even without heat. <br /><br />Having tried many kinds of fruit with white vinegar, apple cider vinegar, and white wine vinegar, I definitely prefer white vinegar (even though, before beginning, I was sure I'd prefer the others). The fruit flavors are cleaner and purer with white vinegar. Lastly, shrubs are equally good when made with frozen fruit as with fresh fruit. <br /><br />Our favorite flavors were raspberry, cherry, peach cardamom, and blueberry.
 
Author Comment
Caroline L. August 23, 2015
thank you for the tip! i'll have to try it that way. does combining the fruit and vinegar first make the fruit taste pickley? peach cardamom sounds amazing. and i love that you gave shrubs as wedding favors!!
 
booglix August 23, 2015
Thx Caroline! I didn't notice a pickley flavor, at least aside from the sharp, tangy, and vinegary flavor that's a given with shrubs.
 
Author Comment
Caroline L. August 24, 2015
good to know! thank you!