In Australia, we’re so fortunate to have the availability of year-round quality produce that we don’t need to preserve anything. A nightly fruit order (at least in the cities) will provide you with all the fresh goodness you need to make tasty drinks on cue.
Shrubs are one of those ingredients that you may have played with in cocktails once or twice, perhaps having been shown them by an old ex-manager or had seen in drink specs and thought, vinegar in drinks, why?
The thing is though, a bit of a vinegar tang in some drinks can give a hell of a lot of depth of flavour. It can help to round out some overbearing sweetness or decrease the amount of fresh citrus needed to do so. They are shelf-stable and readily available. Easy.
“If it was up to me I’d have a shrub in half my drinks. I think a bit of vinegar helps add a lovely tang to a lot of cocktails, especially sours. When you make a sour with a shrub it gives you an extra thick foam with a luxurious mouthfeel.” – Ian Guthrie of J&M’s in Sydney
“If it was up to me I’d have a shrub in half my drinks,” says Ian Guthrie of J&M’s in Sydney. “I think a bit of vinegar helps add a lovely tang to a lot of cocktails, especially sours. When you make a sour with a shrub it gives you an extra thick foam with a luxurious mouthfeel.”
Teeling Fine Ian Guthrie, J&M’s 45ml Irish Whiskey 25ml blackberry shiraz shrub* 15ml lemon juice 5ml simple syrup 20ml egg white Whip shake with 2 cubes. Double strain into glass. Top with 45ml soda. Garnish with Black Salt on foam *Blackberry Shiraz Shrub 1kg blackberries 750ml full-bodied shiraz 375g caster sugar 350ml red wine vinegar Add all ingredients to a large pot and bring to the boil, stirring occasionally. Immediately lower the heat to a gentle simmer and leave for 10 minutes. Remove from heat and allow to cool for 20 minutes. Strain through a fine-mesh strainer and bottle.
So what is a shrub? It’s a non-alcoholic syrup made of a combination of concentrated fruits, aromatics, sugar, and vinegar. The terminology may not be understood by most of our guests but they don’t need to (unless they are curious). We simply need to know that a shrub will give a drink some underlying acidity. Good for us.
The history of shrubs dates back, well, a long way. There’s evidence of it present in Babylonia (that’s proper BC timelines) and can be found in most cultures across the globe. No, your first bar manager didn’t come up with the concept. Seems as soon as we figured out that vinegar was a stable ingredient, it’s been used to flavour – or more importantly preserve – natural things.
The British made sure there was plenty on board their ships as they sailed the globe, to add to their rations in the hopes of preventing scurvy (grog is a good google search if you are interested) but also to clean their ships. It’s been stated that the shrub was an American drink (who settled America again?) well before Coca-Cola became known as the staple of its non-alcoholic offering.
Imagine a time before refrigeration (hard I know) but steeping fresh ingredients in vinegar and adding sugar to make it less face-puckering was the norm. Booze was often added to a shrub to make it, well, fun, I guess.
Imagine a time before refrigeration (hard I know) but steeping fresh ingredients in vinegar and adding sugar to make it less face-puckering was the norm. Booze was often added to a shrub to make it, well, fun, I guess. On the hot plains of America, a shrub was needed to refresh the hard-working Haymakers during their back-breaking work and they could drink their fill without getting too spicy.
The history of shrubs can be a little dry to be fair, much like the liquid itself. So I wanted to know what bartenders thought of them right now, because cause there’s no time like the present (my history teacher would hate me).
I reached out to bartenders through the great forums that are the Bartender exchanges, SBE, BBE and MBE (Sydney, Brisbane and Melbourne, sorry to the rest of the country, if you have them too please add me) to see what they thought of shrubs, how they were using them and what cocktail creations they were experimenting with..
The response was amazing, thank you to everyone that sent in their house shrub and apologies if I couldn’t add them all in this article. Even Ryan Lane posted something about how long ago he was using them in drinks, at least I think that’s what he meant by “What year is it?”.
Martini Al Pastor Gus Goncalves, Pilgrim Brisbane Barspoon pulled pork fat washed mezcal 45ml tequila reposado 10ml Jerez Amontillado 10ml Jalapiña shrub** Stirred and served straight up in a Nick & Nora glass. Garnish with 3 olives on a cocktail pick. **Al Pastor Shrub specs: * 200g fresh and ripe pineapple (skinned and cut up into approx 3cm chunks) * 3x sliced medium-sized jalapeños * 200kg caster sugar * 100ml rice wine vinegar Method: lightly macerate pineapple chucks and jalapeño with sugar. Let it rest for 24 hours in a covered bowl (room temperature). After the 24 hours, pour in the vinegar and fine strain it. We keep it in the fridge after that. This shrub will be at its optimal taste after about 20 days.
To see the number of passionate bartenders making shrubs to preserve ingredients and make a wild array of flavours is inspiring. Bartending is an interesting world where something that is hundreds or even thousands of years old is still being used in new and innovative ways and it’s great. We’re a special bunch like that.
Gus Concalves from Pilgrim in Brisbane likes to use shrubs on boozy, stirred cocktails like his Martini Al Pastor (picture above). He says: “It balances it perfectly by adding acidity, sweetness and fruit-forward aroma and taste.”
Maddy Gorman, the bar manager at the beautiful BANC restaurant in Brisbane uses cucumber and mint Shrub for the Endorsement mocktail beverage she is currently running.
Endorsement Maddy Gorman, BANC 40ml Ovant Grace 20ml Cucumber & Mint Shrub 10ml Simple Syrup 20ml Lime Juice 20ml Pineapple Juice 15ml Egg White Top with Sparkling Water Serve in a Highball. Garnish with a centered straw & mint sprig
In Melbourne, at Anther Distillery, Nicole Myers likes to use shrubs in cocktails, because they can provide the perfect balance of fresh fruit, sweetness and tartness, with the advantage of longevity. “Like many bartenders, I have experimented with making my own shrubs, but The Curious Cabinet shrubs capture the flavour of fresh fruit exceptionally well,” she says. “The Release The Goddess cocktail is particularly special to us, as I designed it to highlight both the Anther Goddess Strength Gin and The Curious Cabinet’s White Peach Shrub. With International Women’s Day approaching and as one of the few female-led distilleries in the industry we wanted something that was both powerful and subtle. The Goddess Strength Gin is a tribute to the strength of women, and women in science in particular, as our boss and head distiller Dervilla McGowan, has a P.H.D in microbiology”.
Release the Goddess Nicole Myers, Anther Distillery 45ml Anther Goddess Strength Gin 7.5ml Orange Curacao 7.5ml Martini Speciale Reserva Ambrato 30ml Curious Cabinet White Peach Shrub Shake and double strain into a coupe or honeycomb glass with a white grapefruit twist.
Even if our guests don’t quite know that your housemade shrub isn’t some form of witchcraft that doesn’t matter. Hopefully, it sparks a conversation about why they exist and it’s just another way we can add something interesting to a cocktail.
The Garden Palace Cooler Rhiannon Thomas, Dulcie’s Kings Cross 60ml white rum 45ml housemade celery & cumquat shrub* Top with housemade snap pea soda Serve in a highball Garnish with a banana leaf *Housemade Celery & cumquat shrub 500ml champagne vinegar 250ml water 500g sugar 1 bunch of celery Handful of celery leaves 5 sliced cumquats Combine champagne vinegar, water, and sugar and heat and simmer until sugar is dissolved. Once cooled add to an airtight jar and add all other ingredients. Refrigerate and shake daily for 48 hours, strain out and remove celery, celery leaves, and cumquats.