The basic idea was to preserve the fruit for eating later when the idea of modern-day refrigeration was still to be conceptualised. Vinegar being an exceptional preservative, not just retained the flavors of the berries, but when this leftover product was mixed with water, it became the first-ever shrub. Initially popularised as a poor man's drink, the first mention of shrubs was in 1747 in The Gentleman's Magazine (London).
The Popularity in America
During colonial times, shrubs became popular in the United States. It was only natural for them to survive there longer due to the onset of the Prohibition Era (the over decade long ban between the years 1920 and 1933 when as per the Eighteenth Amendment passed by the government of the United States, the sale, manufacture, and transport of alcohol was illegal). People believed that the vinegar had a kick to it similar to that first shot of hard liquor, and thus, shrub became a substitute for banned alcohol during the 1920s and early 30's America.
However, if this short time travel of the taste buds perked your senses, then the stories of the legendary bartender, Mr. Jeremiah 'Jerry' Thomas, would be right up your alley. The Father of American Mixology, Jerry Thomas, was a pioneer in popularising cocktails across the country through some of the most fascinating recipes and extravagant showmanship. Having written the world's first bartender's guide, 'How to Mix Drinks or The Bon Vivant's Companion,' Thomas paved the way for the American school of drinking for the next century (and more). A man clearly ahead of his time, he made his own bitters, infused cocktails with locally sourced medicinal herbs and roots, and mastered complex formulae for cocktails, all while creating a spectacle for his customers at El Dorado gambling saloon in San Francisco.
Where do shrubs stand today?
Meanwhile, the shrub has experienced a renaissance in the past few years as mixologists worldwide rediscovered old bar manuals and techniques lost during the Prohibition Era. It's an exciting time for bar enthusiasts like you and me. Bartenders and mixologists on a quest to incorporate the richness of fresh fruits into their drinks found their treasure in shrubs. There has never been a better time to bid adieu to artificially flavored, preservative-ridden fruit syrups and say hello to the all-natural cocktail mixer, the shrub. The acidity of the vinegar in shrubs provides tang, intensifying the flavor of the fruit in the same way that the acidity of lemons balances the sugar in lemonade. The depth and complexity provided by just a few ounces of a highly concentrated shrub are enough to take your average cocktail to a whole new level. And this paradigm shift in the use of natural cocktail mixers is here to stay. We see enthusiasm across the bar industry for handcrafted, uniquely flavorful, and sometimes even long-forgotten syrups and bitters.
Personally, we're just a fan of the fact that there's so much room to play around with drinks when it comes to shrubs. Rum, whiskey, vodka, gin, beer…you name it. Besides, you don't even have to like alcohol to enjoy a good ol' shrub. Top it off with soda or some ISH, and you're good to go.
Appended are a few of our favorite cocktail recipes with shrubs:
The Raspberry GnJ (Gin & Jun)
Description: Raspberry, Ginger, and Mint Jun paired with gin.
(1 oz = 30 ml)
Local Ferment Co’s Raspberry, Ginger & Mint Jun
Gin - 2 oz
Angostura bitter - to taste
Pour the gin in chilled burgundy or wine goblet glass and top it off with the Raspberry, Ginger & Mint Jun. Add 2-3 cubes of ice, stir and chill the drink. Add a dash of Angostura bitters and garnish it with a ginger julienne or orange peel.
The Cherry Old-Fashioned
Description: LFC’s Cherry, Vanilla & Cacao Shrub paired with whiskey.
(1 oz = 30 ml)
Local Ferment Co’s Cherry, Vanilla & Cacao Shrub - 20 ml
Local Ferment Co’s Cherry, Vanilla & Cacao Jam - 1 tsp
Whiskey - 2 oz
Muddle the Cherry Shrub with the Jam. Strain the mixture into a whiskey glass. Pour in the whiskey. Finish it with 1-2 cubes of ice and an orange peel to garnish.
Inputs from Akash Devaraju & Noopur Porwal, Local ferment Co.