Ever Had A Shrub? 5 Drinking Vinegar Recipes You Should Definitely Try

There's a reason this historic drink has come back in favor.

October 25, 2016
several fruit shrubs
Matt Rainey

Chris Shepherd, chef-owner of Houston’s Underbelly restaurant, was chatting with bartenders from neighboring Anvil Bar and Refuge about a shipment of citrus from a local farm they both use when the mixologists mentioned their plans to transform the oranges into shrubs. Intrigued, Shepherd decided to give the method a whirl.

Derived from the Arabic sharab, meaning “drink,” a shrub is a zingy libation of fruit and sugar steeped in vinegar. People have enjoyed versions of these concoctions the world over—from colonial America, where sailors used them to prevent scurvy, to modern Asia, where people sip drinking vinegars as a health tonic. The shrub was one of America’s first drinks, kept without chilling and imbibed by settlers as an alternative to water, which was often unsafe. Popular through the 18th and 19th centuries, shrubs fell out of fashion after modern refrigeration eliminated the need for shelf-stable beverages. 

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(Find seasonal recipes, inspiring imagery, and gardening tips every day inside the Rodale’s Organic Life 2017 Calendar!)

Today, they have made a comeback thanks to barkeeps who showcase them in cocktails. But for chefs like Shepherd, who features off-cuts of meat and seafood bycatch at Underbelly, shrubs also fit a waste-not ethos. The vinegar’s acetic acid acts as a preservative, making the season’s bounty available year-round. It provides an invigorating way to relish, say, raspberries on a stark January evening.

The science-minded Shepherd worked with Rice University students studying chemistry and microbiology to perfect the balance of acidity, alcohol, and sugar in each of his batches. This led him to dream up such unique combinations as fig and star anise with champagne vinegar, and green grape and clove with white wine vinegar—both irresistible.

“Shrubs are a refreshing, come-back-to-life kind of beverage,” he says. Though they’re a relief during hot Texas summers, when Shepherd pairs strawberry and kaffir lime with white balsamic vinegar, they’re also welcome in fall, when the chef and his bartender pals like to kick off nippy evenings with a cinnamon-laced apple shrub blended with bourbon. Shrubs are formidable flavor-boosters in the kitchen, too: Shepherd complements grouper filets or pork collar with any number of shrub glazes. From spring’s first rhubarb to peak-autumn pumpkins and squash, the options are only as limited as the farmers’ market’s selections.

Get in on the shrub trend with these 5 tasty recipes.

Apple Shrub

Cinnamon and brown sugar give this elixir an apple-pie appeal. 

Makes about 3¾ cups

9 Granny Smith apples, cored and cut into 8 slices each
4 cups brown sugar
2 tablespoons ground cinnamon
1 cup apple cider vinegar

1. In a bowl, combine apples, sugar, and cinnamon; stir for about 5 minutes. Cover and chill for 2 days, stirring daily. 

2. Stir and strain, reserving apples to snack on. In a sanitized canning jar, mix with vinegar, cover tightly, and store chilled for up to 1 month. 

3. To serve, add ¼ cup shrub to 1 cup still or sparkling ice water, or mix with spirits, to taste.

Related: 4 Things That Happen When You Drink Apple Cider Vinegar With Every Meal

Butternut Shrub

This zingy blend is also a great marinade for pork, lamb, or fish.

Makes about 3 cups

One 4-pound butternut squash, halved and seeded
Olive oil, for greasing
1½ cups brown sugar
2 tablespoons chopped sage
1 tablespoon red pepper flakes
1 cup white wine vinegar 

1. Heat oven to 350 degrees. Roast squash skin side up on a greased cookie sheet until tender, 30 minutes. Cool. In a food processor, purée with sugar, sage, and pepper. Transfer to a bowl, cover, and chill 2 days. Stir daily. 

2. Whisk in vinegar and strain. Transfer to a sanitized canning jar, cover tightly, and store chilled for up to 1 month. 

3. To serve, add ¼ cup shrub to 1 cup still or sparkling ice water, or mix with spirits, to taste.

Fig Shrub

Chef Chris Shepherd uses delicate champagne vinegar to balance sweet figs.

Makes about 2 cups

4 cups (about 1 pound) stemmed and quartered figs
2 cups granulated sugar
4 star anise pods
½ cup champagne vinegar  

1. In a bowl, combine figs, sugar, and star anise (here's how to grow fantastic figs). Cover and chill for 2 days. Stir daily. 

2. Stir vigorously to combine and dissolve sugar, about 2 minutes. Strain, pressing figs. In a sanitized canning jar, mix with vinegar, cover tightly, and store chilled for up to 1 month. 

3. To serve, add ¼ cup shrub to 1 cup still or sparkling ice water, or mix with spirits, to taste.

Green Grape Shrub 

Top this clove-scented shrub with champagne for a festive aperitif.

Makes about 3 cups

5 cups (about 2 pounds) halved green grapes
2 cups turbinado sugar
1½ teaspoon whole cloves
⅓ cup white wine vinegar 

1. In a bowl, combine grapes, sugar, and cloves. Squeeze and stir to dissolve sugar, 5 minutes. Cover and chill for 2 days, stirring daily. 

2. Stir vigorously to combine and dissolve remaining sugar, about 2 minutes. Strain, pressing grapes. In a sanitized canning jar, mix with vinegar, cover tightly, and store chilled for up to 1 month.

3. To serve, add ¼ cup shrub to 1 cup ice water or sparkling wine, or mix with spirits, to taste.

Pumpkin Shrub

Roasted, puréed pumpkin yields a rich, warmly spiced digestif.

Makes about 3½ cups

One 2-pound pumpkin, halved and seeded
Olive oil, for greasing
1¼ cups brown sugar
1 cinnamon stick
1 cup apple cider vinegar

1. Heat oven to 350 degrees. Roast pumpkin on a greased cookie sheet until tender, 30 minutes. Cool. In a food processor, purée flesh with sugar. Transfer to a bowl, mix in cinnamon, cover, and chill for 2 days. Stir daily. 

2. Whisk in vinegar and strain. Transfer to a sanitized canning jar, cover tightly, and store chilled for up to 1 month. 

3. To serve, add ¼ cup shrub to 1 cup still or sparkling ice water, or mix with spirits, to taste.

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