Actually, people have been drinking vinegar for thousands of years.
HAVE YOU COME across any great shrubs this summer? Not the small bushes, but the vinegar-fruit syrup that is, shall we say, cropping up in cocktails and nonalcoholic drinks alike. Who would drink vinegar? People have been doing it for thousands of years, even though it might seem like the latest trend in a glass.
To learn about shrubs, I turned to beverage rock star Anna Wallace. Wallace ran the bar at The Walrus and the Carpenter before starting Seattle Seltzer Co. This summer she introduced the beverage program at Chop Shop Café & Bar in the newly opened Chophouse Row on Capitol Hill.
Wallace began making shrubs and sodas several years ago.
“The tangy and sweet combination in a shrub lends a deeper flavor profile to drinks,” she says. “Drinking fermented fruit is good for you, whereas drinking commercial soda is not.”
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The word shrub is said to come from the Arabic sharbah, which means “a drink.” Vinegar-based drinks have long been considered to possess medicinal properties and cooling effects. Before refrigeration, people also fermented fruits and vegetables to preserve them and used the resulting syrup in drinks.
With the dawn of refrigeration and industrialization, shrubs fell out of fashion, Wallace says. Now, like many lost food arts, shrubs are making a comeback due to an increase in health consciousness, and a renewed interest in local and seasonal ingredients.
They’re practical and healthy, with amazing taste, too. When diluted in water, shrubs are surprisingly refreshing, coyly tart and sweet at the same time. Think of flavors you might like — blackberry-thyme, ginger, cucumber-mint, pear — and look for ingredients in your yard or at a farmers market. Late summer and early fall is the perfect time to experiment.
Shrubs can be made different ways. Fermentation at room temperature can take a week or two. But shrubs can be made quickly by heating fruit with sugar and vinegar, then straining. The shrub is then mixed with water, seltzer or cocktails when you want a flavor boost.
Wallace shares one of her favorite recipes, Beet Happening, available at Chop Shop Café & Bar. This recipe yields more beet syrup and shrub than you will need for one drink, so keep the bottles in the fridge for another time.
Makes one drink
1 ounce beet shrub
¾ ounce fresh lime juice
½ ounce beet syrup
3 ounces soda water
Mint sprig, small lime wedge, grated Ceylon cinnamon (also known as “true” cinnamon)* for garnish
1. Combine all ingredients except soda water and shake with ice.
2. Strain into a glass, top with soda water and ice, then garnish.
2 ounces fresh red beet juice, made in a juicer (or in a food processor with a bit of water, then strained)
½ cup sugar
2½ ounces sherry vinegar
1 teaspoon allspice berries
1 teaspoon black peppercorns
Peel of 1 large orange
½ true cinnamon stick
1. Combine all ingredients in a medium pan over medium-low heat. Simmer until the sugar dissolves.
2. Remove from heat and let the mixture stand for 15 minutes.
3. Strain into a sterilized glass bottle with a tight lid and store in the refrigerator. Shrub will keep two to three weeks.
2 large red beets, cleaned, peeled and cubed
1 large chunk of fresh ginger, cleaned and cut into small pieces
½ cup water
1 cup fine sugar
15 mint leaves
1 teaspoon pink peppercorns
1. Combine all ingredients in a pan over high heat and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to low and simmer 15 minutes.
2. Remove the mixture from heat and allow it to cool completely. Strain the syrup into a glass bottle with a lid and store it for up to one week in the refrigerator.
* Find Ceylon or “true” cinnamon at spice markets and bulk spice sections.
Anna Wallace, adapted from Clover Club in Brooklyn, N.Y.