What Is a Shrub Anyway?
- By Angie
- 29 Apr, 2020
A shrub is a vinegar based cordial or ‘drinking vinegar’. While it’s become popular in the modern cocktail bar, it’s certainly a drink of yesteryear. Drinking vinegar has been on tables and in cups for thousands of years. From the babylonians through to ancient China, where it was used to promote digestion. The Romans used to infuse vinegar with herbs to make a beverage called a posca that was given to soldiers for health benefits. This of course comes from the idea that the acetic acid in vinegar can help the body to absorb essential minerals from the foods we eat. Not to mention the probiotic nature of many vinegars for promoting healthy bacteria in the gut.
Of course, skip a thousand years and the introduction of mass agriculture, shrub syrups became a means of preserving fruit long past its picking. Shrubs as we know them today, became popular in Colonial America, mixed with cool water to provide a pick-me-up on hot summer days but also in the prohibition era. Shrubs in North America are seeing a massive resurgence both among mixologists and the home ‘scratch’ cook. There are many many ways to make a shrub so the definitive definition of a shrub we’ll say is ‘an acidulated beverage made of fruit juice, sugar, vinegar and other ingredients’.
Now to confuse you further, Angie’s Food Shrubs are made similar to a oxymel or a mexican tepache. (More bloody confusing names you say?!) An oxymel is just another type of vinegar based syrup like a shrub but it always uses honey and are generally understood more of a ‘health tonic’ as they are often steeped for weeks. A tepache is a fermented syrup made from the skins of pineapple.
The way I make mine is by fermenting fruit with sugar and water. The natural lactobacillus and wild yeasts in the air and on the skins start to breakdown the fruit and turn the sugar into alcohol then into acetobacter, where the trace amount of alcohol is so low that it is barely there. I then add a locally made, naturally fermented apple cider vinegar from Lirah in Queensland to ensure a stable product but also to capture some of the life in the ferment. This is strained and bottled and voilah! Angie’s shrub is born!
I’ve been making these drinks for family and friends for years when everyone kept saying “you should sell these” I just decided “ok, I will!”. Every batch I make uses a different fruit because I want the opportunity to work with farmers on what they are harvesting at the time. There are a few flavours that have always worked particularly well and that I come back to time and time again! These are things like yuzu and bergamot - both citrus fruit with really short seasons in Australia. I can’t offer these year round because the grower has the fruit for a really short time. Because all my batches are small, they can sell out really quickly and we have to wait until next year for that flavour again!
Now I could go into a long spiel about seasonal eating being right for the planet and small farmers and helping to build a stronger local food system but honesty (and not to bore you…) for me, it’s simply the excitement around a specific harvest. That special fruit that is not around all the time! Things like truffles wouldn’t be as ‘special’ if they grew all year round and everywhere you went! Think of mangoes in summer or quinces in Autumn, they epitomise the season. So I’m sorry if you can’t get that cherry shrub all year round… buy a year’s supply if you love it but I will only make it when my farmer is harvesting local cherries.
Which brings me to my image above. This is me and Andrew Muscat, from Muscat family farms. I’ve known Andrew for many years (14 years to be exact) - since I had a stall next to him at a farmer’s market. I’ve visited his farm on multiple occasions and even taken a group of visitors there on a tour! His family farm is located in the Lower Hawkesbury region of outer Sydney. If you frequent Carriagworks markets, you will have seen him there! Andrew not so long ago, bought a plot near Young in NSW. He bought this plot as he was keen to grow fruit that he couldn’t around the Hawkesbury. Things like plums and cherries. This is lucky for us as I was so excited when I saw him with cherries in Dec 2019 that I bought 30kg to make a Christmas Cherry shrub as one of my first official products under my new label. That harvest was a tough one for many farmers in NSW and around the east coast of Australia. Battling drought and fires it was a season like none other.
That cherry shrub is now long sold out. But I was able to get blood plums from him in early 2020 so this delicious shrub is available HERE. Drink this shrub and know that Andrew grew that fruit and you can put a face and a name to the thing you consume! Isn’t that f-ing powerful?
Mix it with soda water, mix it into a gin and tonic or as part of a sophisticated cocktail blend. Or even try it in a salad dressing! Anywhere you want a fresh fruit sour tanginess is where the shrubs will taste great! For me, I just drink them with soda water knowing I’m helping my gut but also as a very tasty alternative to an alcoholic beverage.