How to make a refreshing shrub: the US fruit-based vinegar drink

Popular with America’s settlers, the shrub was considered healthier than plain water and a good way for sailors to avoid scurvy. We show you how to make your own delicious apple shrub

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 23 March, 2017, 5:00pm
UPDATED : Thursday, 23 March, 2017, 5:59pm

In the world of drinks, a shrub has nothing to do with gardening.

The word is believed to come from Arabic, where a sharab is a drink that is offered to guests. Hindu Indians had sharbat – herb or flower-flavoured syrups that were diluted with water.

There are two types of drinks called the shrub. In 17th- and 18th-century England a shrub consisted of rum or brandy mixed with sugar and fruit juice or rinds. The drink could be found in most pubs until it lost popularity towards the end of the 19th century.

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In the US, it’s a fruit-based vinegar drink that can be sipped “neat”, or used in cocktails. In colonial America, settlers often drank vinegar-based shrubs with water, which on its own was thought to be unsafe. Sailors of yore brought shrubs on board for long voyages, to prevent scurvy.

Today, the US shrub is coming back into vogue as a healthy drink that is considered good for the digestive system. They’re huge in Korea, where you can buy an array of them at almost every grocery store or convenience shop. At Sevva, the eatery on top of the Prince’s Building in Central, there a page devoted to shrubs, all made in-house.

Bartenders have been showcasing their own bespoke shrub concoctions in signature cocktails, as they are great flavour boosters and add a delicious zing to a drink. Because they’re concentrated, a little goes a long way in enhancing the flavours of a cocktail.

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Shrubs fit very well into the waste-not, want-not ethos. Before refrigeration came into being, it was another way of preserving the best of the summer harvest for the oncoming cold season. The fruit would be put into a crock with enough sugar to cover the contents. The sugar would draw the juices out of the fruit, and after a few weeks it would naturally begin to ferment into vinegar. Vinegar, alcohol (a by-product of fermentation) and sugar all act together as a preservative, and a shrub is the perfect balance of the three.

They are actually quite simple to make. Here’s the recipe for the first batch I ever made.

Green Apple Shrub

1 kilo Granny Smith apples, cored and cut into eight pieces

1 kilo caster sugar

4 cinnamon sticks (add extra if you really like cinnamon), broken into 2cm pieces

500ml apple cider vinegar

Sanitise a large jar and lid by boiling it for 10 minutes in a pot that’s been lined with a dish towel (to prevent the glass from coming into direct contact with the bottom of the pot).

Put the apples, sugar and cinnamon into the jar.

Cover and chill for four days, stirring the contents daily. The apples should be soft; if they’re not, leave longer in the fridge.

Sanitise a smaller jar.

Mash the apple/sugar mixture, then strain the liquid from the first jar into smaller jar. Don’t waste the solids: the apples should be soft and pulpy; you can spread them on toast or pancakes.

Add the cider vinegar to the liquid in your smaller jar, then stir and cover tightly with the lid.

Refrigerate for one month, shaking the jar occasionally.

Your shrub is ready!

The acidity in the shrub is quite refreshing. I would suggest mixing about 30ml of shrub (or more, if you like it quite puckery) into a glass (200 ml) of water or soda water.

A tipsy shrub? The green apple shrub is a delicious addition to a gin and tonic – it really brings out the botanicals that are in my gin of choice at home, Bombay Sapphire.

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