Illustration by Derek Mast
Back when refrigeration was scarce but fresh produce was abundant, drinking vinegars were used as a means of preserving the season. Yes, we're aware that consuming vinegar might sound like a punishment more than a refreshment, but these acidulated syrups—which are made by aging a mixture of fruit, sugar, and vinegar—combined with soda water were the go-to refreshment before Coca-Cola came around. Fast forward a few years, and these concoctions, better known as shrubs, are having a Renaissance on bar menus throughout the country.
You can use any vinegar that you'd like, but Pike prefers working with champagne vinegar for this particular combination. Think of trying things like strawberry rhubarb shrub made with balsamic, or blueberry shrub with apple cider vinegar. Sure, you might have some failed attempts, but because you can use bruised fruit to make shrub, it won't be a total loss. The process is a fairly difficult one to botch, so long as you follow the basic ratio of equal parts fruit liquid to granulated sugar, combined with ½ parts vinegar. The only real problem that might arise is a flavor combo that's less than favorable. (One of Pike's cantaloupe concoctions turned out to smell a little bit like sweaty gym socks.) Start with the basics first, like one of the combinations mentioned above, and then you can start to get fancy.
Go ahead, get your shrub on.
Watermelon white pepper shrub
By Justin Pike
1/2 large watermelon, blended (about 2 liters of liquid)
2 liters of granulated sugar
1 oz white pepper
1 liter champagne vinegar
Puree flesh of the watermelon in a blender. If you're working with stone fruit or berries, simply de-pit and slice rather than blending them. Pour the flesh into a large bowl, then add sugar and white pepper.
Sit covered in your refrigerator for 2 days. You'll begin to notice the liquid separating from the fruit. That's exactly what you want. Pass the mixture through a fine strainer, then add champagne vinegar.
Store in large mason jars or bottles leaving at least half an inch of head room covered for 1-2 weeks.
You're looking for a slightly viscous liquid that's still bright in color, but has a strong nose of vinegar.
Don't be shocked by the pungent pickled taste; remember that these are meant to be blended with soda water or cocktails. Plus, the longer the shrub ages, the more mellowed out the flavors should become.
Just keep them in your refrigerator and let the fun begin. It's time to start mixing.
Summer shrub spritzer
By Justin Pike
6 thin slices of cucumber
1 oz gin, preferably Bombay
1 oz dry vermouth, preferably Donlin
1 ½ oz watermelon white pepper shrub
¼ oz lime
3 oz sparkling wine
3 oz club soda
Place 3 slices of cucumber, gin, vermouth, shrub, lime, and ice in a Boston shaker and shake. Place a few ice cubes and remaining cucumber into a tall glass. Strain the cocktail into the glass, then top with sparkling wine and club soda. This cocktail can also be made punchbowl style for backyard BBQs and outdoor entertaining.