Make Cocktails Like The Pirates Used To With Shrubs
Photo: Santiago Iñiguez / EyeEm (Getty Images)
The rise of craft cocktail culture has led to an increase in at-home bartending. But even if you buy a home bartending kit featuring a shaker made out of a mason jar, a muddler, jigger, and strainer, then stock up on all of your favorite spirits, bitters, juices, tinctures, and herbs, you might still feel like you’re missing one key flavor that you just can’t put your finger on. That flavor is vinegar, but it isn’t the kind you keep in your cupboard for cooking. What you’re missing is the flavor that comes from vinegar-based syrups known as shrubs.
Shrubs were very popular during colonial times in America and they’ve experienced a resurgence in the last few years. Made by combining syrup made from vinegar with spirits, various fruit juices, or carbonated water, shrubs are exactly what your cocktails need to taste like a professional made them.
The history of shrubs can be traced way back to the 1500s. “The origin of shrubs are allegedly the invention of resourceful pirates who would sink their barrels of smuggled booze underwater to avoid detection by privateers,” says Olivia Carb, account director of Quaker City Shrubs. “The seawater would infiltrate the porous barrels and taint the alcohol, so in order to make it palpable, fresh fruit was added to ferment and sweeten the salty booze. Crazy right?”
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Originally called “drinking vinegar,” shrubs finally arrived in the United States and become a staple during the colonial era as a way to preserve fresh fruit, “by macerating the fruit in a combination of sugar and vinegar — for off-season consumption,” says Carb. The final product is very similar to simple syrup, the highly concentrated liquid can be added to carbonated water or added into a cocktail or spirit.
Both house-made and pre-bottled non-alcoholic shrubs have gained traction in recent years. They’ve been mixed into your favorite cocktail or stocked on the shelves of your local grocery store. Much of the return of shrubs can be attributed to the wellness trend branching out into the cocktail world. There’s a reason you see kombucha on draft at your local coffee shop. Fermented drinks are in (just like they were centuries ago).
“We allowed an old-world health tonic, celebrated for its holistic qualities, to be our guide. Apple cider vinegar provides the perfect amount of natural sweetness to create an exciting flavor profile without relying on common sweeteners or fermented dextrose,” says Steven Grasse, founder of Quaker City Shrubs.
Quaker City takes the classic shrub to a different level when they created a line of “spike shrubs” that can be enjoyed on their own or mixed into your favorite cocktail. The basis for their shrubs is apple cider vinegar. “Beyond being a trendy ingredient, ACV is the key ingredient to our shrub’s amazing taste,” says Carb. “The apple cider vinegar interacts with the natural fruit essence to enhance and deliver amazing, authentic fruit flavor.”
The brand doesn’t mix its shrubs with liquor, though. That would result in a fairly high ABV product that might not make for a great after-work drink. They spike theirs with malt instead. “The beer-alternative category is saturated with sugary, spiked beverages packed with synthetic ingredients,” says Grasse. “We spent a long time perfecting this recipe to create a liquid that would appeal to mindful drinkers and would be a welcome alternative to beer and overly-sweet hard ciders and other spiked sparkling beverages.” Quaker City’s shrubs are carbonated, subtly tart, and extremely sessionable for beer fans with an ABV of only 4 percent. Flavors include blackberry, grapefruit, and apple.
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Like classic shrubs, Quaker City Shrubs are great on their own, but also pair well with your favorite cocktail ingredients. “Just keep it simple,” says Carb. “Use QC Shrubs as a sub in your classic two-three ingredient cocktails — instead of tonic or soda in a gin and tonic or whiskey soda, or in any cocktail that calls for bubbles.”
Whichever way you enjoy shrubs, whether it’s in a canned drink or as an ingredient in your favorite cocktail, make this the season of shrubs. You’ll thank us and so will your friends and family.