As a child, my younger sister used to love to drink shrub and coke when we were on holidays. I’m convinced she thought that the cordial she brought from the Cornish cornershop, was alcoholic and therefore illicit – although that’s as far from the truth as could be. It only becomes alcoholic when you add it to a spirit-based cocktail.
I hadn’t heard of the drink since, until I was invited along to an event at Bar 1821 on Picardy Place, for an event in conjunction with Pickering Gin’s brand ambassador, Paul Donegan, who enlightened us about this rather old-fashioned drink.
In terms of mixed drinks, shrub is the name of two different, but related, acidulated beverages. One type of shrub is a fruit liqueur that was popular in 17th and 18th century England, typically made with rum or brandy, and mixed with sugar and the juice or rinds of citrus fruits.
The word “shrub” can also refer to a cocktail or soft drink that was popular during America’s colonial era, made by mixing a vinegared syrup with spirits, water or carbonated water. The terms can also be applied to the base, a sweetened vinegar-based syrup from which the cocktail is made, which is often infused with fruit juice, herbs and spices for use in mixed drinks.
An entertaining presenter, I likened Paul to a younger looking David Bellamy, and he probably knows as much about gin and drinks as Bellamy does about climate change. A self-confessed geek, he’d been playing around with a number of shrubs, all of which we got to taste – mango; pineapple; strawberries and apricot – all in their raw state, which are rather sweet but much better when added to gin and soda.
We were then invited to sample them, mixed with one of Pickerings’ signature gins, made at the Summerhall Distillery in Edinburgh, and some tonic or soda. I opted for the strawberry shrub, with the Pickering’s Gin 42%, which tasted of summer and was a refreshing alternative to your straight gin and tonic – not too sweet and just very summery.
If you’re sitting with a load of soft fruit, or have a friendly greengrocer, looking to sell off over-ripe fruit, why not take it off their hands and have a go at making some Shrub yourself. For the creative amongst you, it could be a lot of fun to see which flavours you can come up with.
- 1kg bag of caster sugar
- 500ml vinegar (fruit, balsamic, white wine vinegar) but NOT malt vinegar
- At least 500g of a fruit of your choice
- Get yourself a Kilner jar or a big jug. Peel your fruit if you need to and chop into approximately 2cm pieces.
- Place the fruit in your container and cover in sugar. Make sure the sugar coats all the fruit and leaves about half a centimetre of sugar on top. Cover and tightly seal the container then leave the mixture for at least 2 days (it doesn't need to be refrigerated).
- When the sugar has soaked up most of the fruit juices (you'll see it) strain the sugar syrup mixture into a saucepan. Pour at least 100ml of your vinegar into the remaining sugar in your original jar and use it to get the sugar off the bottom of the vessel. Pour the vinegar/sugar mixture into the saucepan and heat through until the sugar is totally dissolved. Throughout the heating process keep tasting the mixture and add vinegar to taste (in 25ml increments).
- Once the sugar has dissolved and the mixture has simmered for a couple of minutes, remove from the heat and leave to cool before bottling and refrigerating.
- You now have your very own super tasty shrub. Add it to gin and soda water or just plain soda water to make fantastic and non-alcoholic summer drinks!
- Remember to keep the sugared fruit as you can use it to make home flavoured gin and vodkas.