Mixologist Austin Leard, a manager at M’Tucci’s Italian on the corner of Montaño and Coors NW, says the novelty of bringing back a thirst-quenching beverage that dates at least back to America’s colonial days before refrigeration is what attracted him. But the endless combinations and experimentation with chemistry have kept him engaged in making the fruity, syrupy vinegar drinks.
“I did my homework about the ways to do it and not to do it, but I’m pretty much a hands-on kind of guy,” Leard says. “My customers love them. I just like them so much because there is so much flavor going on. They are sweet, fruity and tangy. They have great acid and they are extremely versatile.”
A fashionable history
Author Michael Dietsch says in his 2014 book, “Shrubs: An Old Fashioned Drink for Modern Times,” that the name is from the Arabic “sharab” and means “to drink.” The word sherbet is also from the same word.
Literary fans may recall reading about Jane Austen’s characters enjoying a shrub or Laura Ingalls Wilder characters quenching themselves with a shrub or its cousin, a switchel, during long hot summers on the prairie.
According to ultimatehistoryproject.com, during a battle of the War of 1812, the British kept some of the tangy vinegar drinks, popular with Americans, handy for the anticipated capture of the USS Constitution. The capture never occurred, of course.
Temperance groups favored the drink as a substitute for alcohol-laced beverages, but some still prefer the drink with liquor.
Any way you want it
That’s mostly how Leard serves the drinks, but you could use them as salad dressing as does one of his favorite customers.
You could drink them with club soda for a refreshing icy drink or make them into a cocktail. For people who like apple cider vinegar for its probiotic and other health benefits, Leard makes his peach shrub with apple cider vinegar.
“Anytime you can make people a healthy cocktail, they are into that,” Leard says. “It makes drinking fun, different and healthy.”
He mixes the Peach Shrub with freshly squeezed lemon and small batch bourbon. Peach vodka, freshly squeezed lemon and club soda make for a Due Pesche. All his shrubs are served in a 14-ounce glass for $8.
He blends a Pineapple Shrub using freshly chopped fruit, rosemary and white balsamic vinegar. He adds fresh basil to strawberries. He mixes his Berry Shrubs with balsamic and red wine vinegar, the ratio depending on the sweetness and flavor of the fruit, he says. He also uses cherries.
Leard’s basic cold-processed shrubs begin with similar portions of fresh fruit and white granulated sugar, adding herbs if he uses them. He allows the fruit mixture to sit with the sugar in a covered bowl in the
refrigerator for several days, mixing occasionally to ensure the sugar dissolves.
The fruit and sugar macerate, creating a syrup. He adds the vinegar to taste, usually about the same amount as the resulting syrup. He allows the mixture to stand for another day or so. He uses a larger mesh strainer and wooden muddling tool to crush the fruit a little more and release the rest of its liquid.
The fruit goes to the M’Tucci’s deli for compote or as a side for rotisserie chicken. The remaining syrup is bottled and ready to use. It can last in the refrigerator indefinitely.
Austin Leard’s Blackberry Shrub
Measurements are approximate
One pound of blackberries, slightly muddled or crushed
About two cups of granulated sugar, depending on sweetness of fruit
About two cups to a quart of vinegar, more or less depending on remaining syrup, in a ratio of three parts balsamic and one part red wine vinegar
Proportion is same amount of fruit and sugar, allow to macerate and then add equal parts vinegar to the remaining liquid syrup after straining fruit.
Wash blackberries and crush slightly and equal parts sugar, mix well in bowl or other container, cover and refrigerate about two days. Stir occasionally to dissolve sugar.
Mix in as much vinegar blend as syrup. Let set for a few hours or longer.
Drain the berries through a mesh strainer into another larger container. Mash or muddle the berries to release all the juice. (Save them for another use. Leard likes them on top of a crusty baguette spread with soft goat cheese.)
Pour shrub into a clean jar or bottle.
Blackberry Shrub Cocktail
Juice from one medium lime
Simple syrup (equal parts water and sugar) in the same amount as lime juice
1 ounce blackberry shrub
1½ ounce Novo Fogo barrel-aged cachaca
Add all ingredients to shaker. Shake with ice, strain cocktail and pour into a glass, add ice and club soda. Garnish with a lime.
1 cup berries or other fruit, washed and quartered or lightly crushed
1 cup sugar
1 cup red wine vinegar or apple-cider vinegar
Place berries or fruit in bowl. Cover with sugar and stir.
Cover with plastic wrap and store in refrigerator until juice exudes from fruit and starts to combine with sugar to form syrup. This may take only 5 or 6 hours or a couple of days. A longer maceration won’t harm anything.
Strain syrup from fruit. Press lightly on solids to express any remaining juice/syrup. Scrape remaining sugar into syrup. Add vinegar. Whisk to combine.
Pour through funnel into clean bottle. Cap and shake vigorously, and mark date on bottle. Refrigerate.
Some sugar may remain undissolved for up to a few days. Shake to combine. After a week, acids in juice and vinegar should dissolve sugar entirely.
– “Shrubs” author Michael Dietsch, Cold Pressed Shrub from seriouseats.com
2 quarts fresh raspberries
1 cup lemon juice
1½ cups sugar
8 cups water
In large bowl lightly crush raspberries, pour in lemon juice.
In a pan, boil sugar and water for three minutes until sugar is dissolved, let stand until cool.
Add to raspberries and lemon juice and mix. Strain fruit and serve over ice.
– From the archives of the Bernalillo County Cooperative Extension Office, New Mexico State University