I don’t know about you but I always wondered by shrubs were. For any reason I believed for a long time that it was a sort of sorbet or a natural juice. I’m nerdy about spirits, I’m naive about bartending practices. So I never really knew what it was until i read this article below, first published by the FMK.
So what is a shrub historically and today?
Excerpts from that article:
The term shrub derives etymologically from the Arabic word s(h)arab or s(h)arba for drinking. But since our interest is hedonistic and not linguistic, we want to leave it at that and devote ourselves to the renaissance of this drink.
Shrubs are vinegared fruit syrups that have been causing quite a stir in the bar world for some time now. It is a drink with a long and varied history that has almost been forgotten. Precursors can already be found among the ancient Greeks and Romans. The most popular soft drink of that period – one could say: the cola for the ancient world – was Posca, a non-alcoholic drink based on wine vinegar.
The beginning of this story is in South and West Asia, with two different drinks. One is Sharbat or Sherbet, a sweetened drink made from citrus fruits, rose petals and spices that is drunk from the Orient to India in different variations. The other is the ancient Persian drink Sekanjabin, a refreshing drink based on honey and vinegar.
Since shrubs was recognized early as an effective remedy for the vitamin deficiency disease scurvy, which particularly sailors suffered, the drink soon reached the Caribbean. There was the distillation of rum in the beginning. At that time, this distilled spirit – made from molasses, a fermented waste product of sugar production – was almost unpalatable, and any flavor change welcome.
From North America come the recipes that are reminiscent of the beginnings of this long historical journey. From the 18th century shrubs are mainly made with acetic acid and served both as a refreshing drink and with alcohol. However, the emerging temperance movement displaces spirits not only slowly from everyday life but also from the shrubs. In the United States, at the latest from prohibition, shrubs stand for abstinence and not for ecstasy.
Through this teetotaller image and the development of modern preservation techniques such as refrigerators or industrial pasteurization, acidified fruit syrups fall into oblivion.
« …. »
What shrub also is ?
A shrub or bush is a small- to medium-sized woody plant. Unlike herbaceous plants, shrubs have persistent woody stems above the ground dixit Wikipedia.
Why bothering about that definition? Because many Spiritsfully’s readers are not native English speakers. So just to avoid confusion.
Doesn’t the term cover several meanings?
Actually yes. When one observes the meanders of the etymology of the word shrub, one can only conclude it has taken different reality in different times. In the 17th or 18th century UK it refers to a drink closer to what we now call a fruit liqueur that is a spirits such as rum or brandy mixed with sugar and the juice or rinds of citrus fruit.
It seems to correspond to the definition of punch. However punch is made fresh to be drunk immediately, whereas the shrubs at that time were made to be kept. That may be the ancestor of a pre mixed cocktail.
In the 19th and 20th century US, when the temperance movement gained momentum it tended to mean some drinking vinegar mixed with fruits and sugar.
Drinking vinegar was indeed a good alternative to citrus juices in the preservation of fruits, and always available, as a by product of wine fermentation. One would let fruit macerating into vinegar, drain the fruit out and the resulting liquid was poured in a glass with a tonic water and sugar.
When fruit juices started to be kept fresh in refrigirators, they became less attractive.
So what is shrub today?
A shrub is made of three ingredients : sugar, vinegar and fruit. Any fruits. You can actually highlight any fruit with shrub.
How do you make a shrub?
1/ Gather your ingredients and measure equal parts water, sugar, vinegar and fruit.
2/ Start by simmering equal parts water and sugar over low heat until the sugar has dissolved
3/ Add sliced or mashed fruit and keep it simmering till the liquid has taken on the color of the fruit
4/ Add apple cider or white vinegar while simmering continues
5/ Pour the mixture over the strainer onto a container.
6/ Discard solids and store your shrub in the fridge.
Do you have another recipe?
Want to go a little further with vinegar? Ever heard of sekanjabin?
In Iran, there is a syrup named sekanjabin made from cooking sugar, water, and vinegar together, often with herbs like mint steeped in the mixture. Sekanjabin can be used as the base of a cooling drink when combined with ice, water, more mint, and cucumber.
Ever heard of oxymel?
It was in vogue in Rome, it is also a syrup made from honey, herbs and vinegar that was traditionally used to preserve and improve the flavor of medicinal herbs.
How can you discuss the use of vinegar without mentioning Kombucha?
But this is the beginning of another story.