Pick your poison: raspberry, strawberry, blackberry, or even gooseberry — when concocting cocktails, berries are my secret weapon. With the season being so ridiculously short though, you have to get creative with preserving, pickling and freezing these summer stars.
We’ve all had a preserved cherry in our Manhattan or blended frozen summer fruit for that perfect margarita… but have you ever had a shrub?
I first discovered the humble shrub in a History of Cooking course I took in culinary school. A shrub is basically a fruit-and-vinegar syrup. In ye olden days, it was a way of adding acid when lemons were scarce. The acid brings out the fruit without overloading on sugar — another commodity that until recently decades was scarce in Ontario. Shrubs make for fabulous non-alcoholic drinks — but we love them in our cocktails!
Hardcore shrubbers — shruberators? shrubologists? — make their own vinegar’s using fruit juice, sugar, and wild yeasts from the air. While this part is great fun, I’m partial to the fruit vinegar made by Jason Persall and his family at Pristine Gourmet. The blueberry in particular lends itself very well to shrubs for gin based cocktails.
If you want to make your own shrub at home, don’t be fooled by the plethora of methods you can find online. In my mind, the cold brew method is key to the most delicious shrub. Cooking, in my eyes, takes away that beautiful fresh flavour we’re working so hard to preserve. Much like brewing or bread baking, the cold brew method creates an ecosystem as it ages adding depth and richness. That being said, I’d suggest for unconventional shrubs like rhubarb, crab apples or quince, I’d suggest cooking the fruit as the raw flavours of these fruits isn’t awesome to start with.
Here’s my go to method for cold-brew shrub:
Wash your chosen fruit. My favorites are strawberries, peaches and red currants. Mash the fruit ever so slightly. If using strawberries, they should be hulled and quartered. Stone fruit needs to be quartered and pitted.
Cover the fruit with sugar. I like the just under one-cup-to-one-cup ratio. This isn’t an exact science. Combine, cover, and hide in the back of the fridge. After several hours, or a day or two, your fruit should be surrounded by juice and syrup.
Strain the syrup away from the solids, pressing lightly to get any hidden juice. Add vinegar, like I said — I use Pristine Gourmet’s fruit vinegar, but you could make your own. Whisk to combine until any residual sugar is dissolved.
Pour through a funnel into a clean bottle. Cap, shake well, and refrigerate. That’s that! If it seems a little intense, don’t panic — it mellows with time. When I first make shrubs, they make lemonade like drinks on ice. As they age, they lend themselves very well to stirred cocktails.
Not sure how to use your shrub not that you’ve made it? Well, restraint is key. Shrubs are sour first, sweet second. You definitely don’t need citrus if you’ve got a shrub.
If the idea of making shrubs at home is too much, but you still want to try this delicious trend, head to Cafe Belong at the Evergreen Brick Works and yourself up The Mountie — a delicious mix of Crown Royal, Raspberry Shrub, Simple Syrup, and Sparkling Water.