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Raspberry Shrub

Raspberry ShrubThe concept of balancing sweet with sour in cocktails has been around for a very long time. Most of us associate lemons and limes with the acid side of that formula, but there are more ways than citrus to add sour to beverages. One solution common in the culinary world is vinegar. Coupled with fruit and sugar, this is known as a gastrique, but in liquid culture we call it a shrub.

Shrubs or drinking vinegars may not sound like a good idea to many people. We think this negativity probably comes from the idea that when a wine turns bad, it transforms into vinegar, and you don't want to be sipping bad wine! And yet, nobody has a problem using it to make salad dressing. The truth is, shrubs have been an important part of drinking history since the 15th century. And although the origins may be traced back as a method to preserve fruit, one could argue that fruity and spiced vinegar syrups—whether made out of necessity or desire—were among the earliest drink mixers, used in recipes both hard and soft to create everything from medicinal cordials to stimulating punches.

There's certainly more than one way to make a shrub, and that's one of the reasons they are so interesting. Variations include cooked methods versus a cold process, fruit maceration with vinegar first or sugar first, measurements by weight or by volume, different proportions of fruit, acid and sugar, different sweeteners—the list goes on and on. Everyone has their own way of doing it. We used a very simple cold technique based on details from an online post by Imbibe Magazine to make a basic raspberry shrub, but we will be trying other methods too. It seems that most recipes are extremely forgiving, allowing adjustments or experimentation to suit your taste. About the only thing you can't do is ignore these simple steps and expect to enjoy homemade results without even trying. It doesn't get much easier than this!

Raspberry Shrub
2 cups fresh raspberries
2 cups apple cider vinegar
1.5 cups superfine sugar

Combine fruit and vinegar in a jar and seal tightly. Shake for ten seconds, then again daily for two weeks. After two weeks, open and strain out solids. Combine liquid with sugar and seal again. Shake to dissolve (may take multiple shakes over several days to completely dissolve sugar).

Making Raspberry ShrubThe hardest part of this process is the waiting. A cold process may be simpler than cooked methods, but there is usually a waiting period to test your patience. Shrubs are also much nicer if they are clear, so try to avoid using a fruit purée to save time (although a clear shrub probably doesn't taste any better than a cloudy one). We also recommend careful straining to further improve the clarity of the final result. Like a our Limoncello recipe, we filtered our shrub through a fine mesh strainer, then paper towels, and finally a paper coffee filter to achieve a remarkably clean result before adding the sugar. We did, however, take a shortcut with the sugar by using a blender to quickly dissolve the granules. This generated a lot of bubbles which took a day or longer to dissipate.

An alternate cold method we read about from several sources involves combining an equal weight of chopped fresh fruit and sugar, letting the sugar dissolve while drawing out the fruit juices over several days. Vinegar is then added as a third equal proportion by weight, the solids removed and any remaining sugar dissolved. We will try that method next.

By most accounts, there are several advantages to using a cold process. Not only is it generally easier than cooking over a stove, but avoiding heat also helps to bring out the fresh, potent flavors of the fruit and allows living microorganisms to do a little magic as well. Like our simplified ginger syrup recipe, the flavors also remain strong over time. We find that cooked syrups lose intensity after just a few days or weeks, and that seems to be the case for shrubs too. With so many recipes and opinions out there, we are sure some of you will disagree, but this is a good starting point if you have never done anything like this before.

So, now that you have a shrub, what can you do with it? Well, for starters, spoon a little into a glass and mix it with sparkling water at about one part shrub to four parts bubbly. Do this directly over ice in a glass and try it. If shrubs are new to you, it can seem a little strange the first time you taste and smell a drinking vinegar, and that's okay. As always, you can adjust to your taste, but notice how even this simple beverage showcases the intense flavor of the fruit. Without being overly sweet, it remains refreshing and delicious. Think of this first drink as a sparkling raspberry lemonade—without the lemon. It sounds odd, but once you get used to the idea that citrus is not needed for sour flavors, you begin to understand the appeal and the possibilities a shrub can offer in mixed drinks.

Moving on to something with a bit more kick is as easy as adding a shot of your favorite spirit to the sparkling combination above. Try an ounce of rum, a reposado tequila, or even gin or cognac. Making tall drinks like this couldn't be easier. If you'd like to balance the acid with a bit more sugar, try a some ginger syrup or your favorite liqueur. The possibilities are endless. Once we grew tired of inventing new recipes over ice, we decided to get serious and constructed something for the cocktail glass:


Untitled Raspberry Shrub Cocktail
1.5 oz raspberry shrub
1.5 oz cognac
.25 Campari
1 dash Angostura Bitters

Stir with cracked ice until chilled and amply diluted, then strain into a chilled cocktail glass.

We literally just made this up on the spot. A decent rum might have worked nicely instead. With even a modest inventory of base spirits and liqueurs you could use your shrub to surprise and delight a house full of guests with variations on this idea all night long. We opted to include a little Campari in this one which introduces a bittersweet element to the sour shrub. Sweet vermouth would have been just as interesting for different reasons. Our base spirit teams up with the Angostura to add some depth, but here again, you could choose another base and take this drink in a completely different direction. We like this combination a lot, so the only thing we are missing is a name. Anyone have any ideas?

In the final analysis, we have to admit that we wish we would have done this sooner. A shrub may be just another tool for the master mixologist, but it's also perfect for aspiring enthusiasts because it has so many virtues. The fact that we made raspberry is incidental. Our fruit could have just as easily been strawberries, rhubarb, or a combination of seasonal fruits, herbs and spices. Even frozen fruit can yield decent results. Many successful recipes also employ honey as the sweetener. For the vinegar, apple cider works nicely, but we could have used plain white, a wine variety, balsamic or even a combination. But the beauty of shrubs lies as much in the flexibility of ingredients as it does in its versatility as a mixer. It's fun to find a cocktail ingredient that works just as well (or better) as a non-alcoholic base as it does with a variety of spirits and liqueurs. We've provided a starting point here to get your ideas started, but it's very clear that the only real limit is your imagination!

22 comments to Raspberry Shrub

  • mindtron

    I used the alternate cold method you mention with blackberries and it turned out really well, though I thought it tasted better once it sat a couple weeks to let the vinegar mellow a bit (I do the same with homemade mustard too).

    my cocktail of choice was a collins riff:
    2oz blackberry shrub
    1oz gin
    1oz lemon juice
    1/4-1/2oz sugar (optional)

    build in highball over ice and top with soda

    • mindtron,

      Thanks for confirming the second method. I am looking forward to trying it. Your Collins riff sounds great. It seems that this is one of items that improves with age.

  • Paul

    Hi Randy ! I have just finished letting the raspberries sit with the vinegar for 2 weeks, but when straining the pulp from the liquid I find it almost impossible to strain it through a coffee filter. A few drops come through at the beginning, and then the pores get clogged. More go through waste by being soaked up by the filter than what comes through. Do you have any other ideas how I can get it as clear as possible ? I have used a cheese cloth, and that worked, but when using a paper towel or a coffee filter it just doesn't work. Maybe I can let it sit for a while and try to pour off the top of the liquid and leave the sediments in the jar.

    • Paul, you can't go straight to paper filters. Start with a fine mesh to get the big solids out. Cheesecloth should do that too. Then, try a paper towel, another, and work your way up to a coffee filter. Alternatively, just get the solids out and don't worry about it. Clarity is nice, but flavor is way more important!

  • Paul

    I have finally finished straining the shrub and A LOT went to waste soaked up by napkins, filters and cloth. I started out with 2 cups of vinegar and 2 cups of raspberries, and ended up with barely 1 cup ( 200ml ) of raspberry vinegar. I added 150 cl ( 3/4 cup ) of superfine sugar which has almost dissolved completely. There is a little resting on the bottom of the bottle. Fortunately it doesn't take much for each drink, so I should be able to make around 7 drinks. Would straining through active coal take away the color/taste ?
    A name ? Ruby Raspberry, The Rubus ( Rubus being the scientific name for raspberries ), or Betelgeuse, because of it's bright red color.

    • Paul, sorry you had such challenges with the filtration. Perhaps a little sediment or cloudiness in the final product would have been acceptable. For me, fine mesh caught the fruit chunks and a paper towel took care of everything else. I wonder what the difference was? I don't often lose much volume to filtration--certainly not half, although the fruit itself does displace enough to make the total look much larger than the liquid actually is.
      I would not filter through charcoal.

    • J

      I filtered mine through a small colander, and used the smushed fruit bits to make delicious fruit leather.

  • Paul

    I finally tried this cocktail today, and it was a new experience. Even if the vinegar has been sweetened a lot the vinegar taste is still very prominent, and just after swallowing it feels a little like you swallowed a ball of steel wool. It rakes the top of your throat, but the feeling disappears fast and the aftertaste is quite pleasant. I can't say the raspberries come through very much but it's mostly just a vinegary palate. I think I am quite happy with the small amount of shrub that I acquired because I can't say that this drink is my cup of tea.

    • Fascinating, Paul. My shrub is very much the opposite experience. For comparison, I would say the shrub I made above, when mixed with seltzer as desxribed tastes very much like Lindemans Framboise--Belgian raspberry lambic beer. The berries are intense, and although the balance tips toward sour, it's not harsh. I suspect the berries have much to do with the results. Like anything homemade using fresh ingredients, results vary.

      I made another batch using the equal ratios method mixing sugar and fruit first, then apple cider vinegar after three days. The flavor was similar. Next I'd like to try cherries.

  • Paul

    I will have to try it again too. I would think cherries would give more flavor, but as you say Randy it must depend a lot on what kind of produce you use. I wonder if the percentage of the vinegar varies too. I will look into that. Next time I try it I will probably try a different brand vinegar. I will try it with seltzer first to get a good ratio when dilluting it. Even if this first try didn't pan out very well I am rather inspired to try it again than discouraged. I will try sloe gin soon too as the sloe berries are starting to get ripe here soon. More on this later.

  • Paul

    Sloe gin it is.

    I will give the rasberry shrub another try too using frozen raspberries.

  • Paul

    I ended up making a cherry shrub instead using the seeds as well, some of which I crushed. Could I use it with the same ingredients as above ? I hope this one will turn out better. It seems like all apple cider vinegars have a 5% acidity.

  • Paul,

    I will be curious how your cherry shrub turns out. This is one of those times when nobody but you will be able to tell you whether a particular recipe will work out. You are definitely in the experimentation realm, but I am sure something good will come of it.

  • Paul

    It turned out absolutely wonderful. I have only tried it with ice and soda water so far but the taste is SO CHERRY without the tart acidity that I got with the raspberries. It's just wonderful to drink as it is with soda water, but I will try mixing it one day. I think crushing some of the kernels added extra depth and taste to the shrub. Mixing some with cola makes a superior Cherry Coke as well.

  • Paul

    By the way, I have 500g of sloes sitting in a litre of gin with 250g of sugar now, and it will be ready for Christmas. I will tell you more about the results in a later post. I will be looking forward to making myself a Nybeck Cocktail.

  • Paul

    I have tried making this with a cherry shrub, which turned out wonderfully by itself, but as soon as I mix my shrub, regardless of if it's cherry or raspberry, with cognac it turns into a mouth wrenching experience. I think it might be the tannins in the cognac that are just too pronounced and when mixed some chemical reaction takes place, which makes this drink dry out your palate in an instant. Which cognac do you use ? Should one go for a less expensive VS or an expensive VSOP or XO ? Do the tanin content vary between different brands, or is it proportional to the age ?
    What other spirit would you use if not using cognac ?

  • Mouth wrenching huh? That sounds pretty bad. Could it be the Campari? I have successfully used Courvoisier VS, Pierre Ferrand 1840, Hardy VS, and even cheap St Remy VSOP brandy. I like them all. Here's the thing: nobody says you have to like it. Try any spirit and see what happens. Aged Rum is good. So is whiskey.

  • I dig Shrubs and yours seems to be particularly lip smacking. How do you feel about substituting raw cane sugar for superfine and rice wine or even balsamic for the apple cider vinegar?

    Nice piece. well written and thirst provoking. cheers. wb

    • Warren,

      Thanks for the kind words. We were actually long overdue to write about shrubs, so it probably helped the post that we had so much time to think about our approach.

      Raw cane sugar is a great idea. In fact, the main reason we used superfine was to help it dissolve, as most of the raw sugar we find is coarse granules. We once used a blend tec blender to dry-grind a whole bag of raw sugar into a fine powder. It made some great syrups, but didn't do nice things with the blender gasket! The point is raw sugar might add some nice flavor too, but there are times when it's a problem. For example, when we make cola syrup we used a white sugar because the raw introduces flavors that don't work in our recipe for some reason. I guess it's a matter of taste.

      As for the vinegar, I have heard success stories using balsamic, but as I recall, it was white balsamic. A full-on dark balsamic is definitely going to add flavor of its own. I'd probably do a scaled down test to see if that flavor is ok with your fruit before making a big batch only to find out you hate it. If you read some of the comments above from Paul, you see how varied the results can be. My raspberry always comes out like a Belgian lambic, but Paul had a different experience.

      One of the challenges as well as rewards is knowing that your results will be different from mine. The fruit, the acid, and to a lesser extent, the technique all affect the outcome. You won't know until you tryI

      I've been using the shrub to make the most delicious raspberry salad dressing that is so easy it's almost embarrassing. If nothing else, whatever you make will work in the kitchen if not the bar. Let us know how it turns out!

  • J

    I did this using Turbinado sugar and a cold process with white wine vinegar. It came out good.
    Then I tried it with apple cider vinegar that had the Mother in it. Should I strain it again to get the Mother out?

    • Yeah, J. Filter out the Mother. Nobody wants Mother messing with their shrub! Actually, all kidding aside, I have no idea about the Mother. I like my shrub to be as clear and clean as possible, but I know that sometimes the process removes so much usable liquid that one can only take it so far. If it's not affecting the flavor, shelf life, and you are happy with how it looks, I say no need to filter it again.

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