There are a couple of classic rules for summer entertaining: keep it simple and keep it refreshing. Enter Shrubs. Shrubs are sweet, yet tangy, syrups that combine fruit, sugar and an acid, often in the form of vinegar or citrus juice. They can be prepared in advance of a party, kept in the fridge and can be made with almost any seasonal fruit. So no matter the month, you can keep your cocktails local and seasonal. They also provide a great means to make flavourful non-alcoholic drinks. Just pour one of our shrub recipes over a glass filled with crushed ice and top with soda.
“I love shrubs,” says Danielle Evans-McLean, a certified sommelier and manager of Halifax’s Bistro Le Coq. “I usually try to keep the spirits I mix with them clear, such as gin or vodka, or I even combine them sometimes with a white wine based aperitif. The best part about making shrubs is that you can use any ingredient, fresh or dry. One of my favourite ingredients is dried hibiscus flowers, sourced from Café Aroma Latino in Halifax. As for the acid element, I suggest staying away from regular distilled vinegar as it is often too harsh. I prefer a neutral apple cider vinegar or use a softer, flavoured vinegar such as the coconut white balsamic vinegar from Liquid Gold.”
- 17th century – fruits preserved with vinegar, known as shrubs, were used in England to store fruit through the winter.
- 18th century – the practice of preserving fruit with vinegar crossed the Atlantic to North America and became part of the culture.
- 19th century – in North America, the practice of making shrubs continued to be popular but increasingly the juice was strained off and mixed with a sweetener such as sugar, honey or maple syrup. The syrups were often mixed with water or soda water and served as a refreshing drink, sometimes, but not always, mixed with spirits.
- 20th century – shrubs fall out of favour as refrigeration replaces the need of preserving fruits with vinegar.
- 21st century – as bartenders and mixologists look back in history for inspiration, shrubs have become popular once again.
Belvedere Vodka, 750 ml, $49.98
Grey Goose Vodka, 750 ml, $49.98
Nolet Ketel One Vodka, 750 ml, $32.99
Ungava Premium Gin, 750 ml, $34.99
Bombay Sapphire East Gin, 750 ml, $32.99
Tanqueray Rangpur Gin, 750 ml, $32.99
Recipe provided by Danielle Evans-McLean, Bistro Le Coq
Combine 1 cup sugar and 1 cup apple cider vinegar in a pot. Place over medium-high heat. Stir constantly until the sugar is completely dissolved. Add 1/2 cup hibiscus petals and 1 pint fresh raspberries and let them simmer to soften and flavour your shrub. Cool and strain removing all the fruit and seeds, pressing down on the solids to get extra colour extraction. Let the shrub sit in the fridge for 24 hours. Use to flavour vodka cocktails or pour a couple ounces over ice and serve with an aperitif such as Lillet or Cocchi Americano, and top with sparkling water.
Recipe by Brent Darbyson, Agricola Street Brasserie
Combine 3 cups rhubarb, chopped, and 1 cup sugar in a bowl or jar, cover and let macerate in the fridge for 2 days, stirring occasionally. Strain through a fine mesh strainer until all liquid is removed. Discard solids and then add 3/4 cup Champagne vinegar or white wine vinegar to rhubarb syrup. Allow shrub to age in fridge for 2 weeks. Refrigerate until ready to use.
Two O’Clock Cocktail
Recipe provided by East of Grafton
Place 1 fluid ounce of berry shrub, 1/2 fluid ounce Tanqueray Rangpur Gin and 1/2 fluid ounce St. Germain Elderflower Liqueur into an ice-filled cocktail shaker. Shake and strain into a shrub glass and then top with fresh ice. Garnish with a blackberry.
Pear Apple Shrub
Recipe provided by Hannah Myer, Agricola Street Brasserie
Combine 2 cups chopped pears, 2 cups chopped apples, 2 cups raw sugar and 2 fluid ounces lemon juice in a clean container. Let sit, refrigerated, for a week. Strain through a fine mesh sieve, pressing on the solids to extract flavour and colour, into another container. Add 2 cups of apple cider vinegar and let sit for a week, for the flavours to combine, before using. Hannah recommends mixing with Bourbon and using it as the base for a sparkling sangria cocktail.
Rhubarb Gin and Tonic
Recipe by Breanne Belitsky, Agricola Street Brasserie
Place 1 1/2 fluid ounces Bombay Sapphire East Gin, 1/2 fluid ounce fresh lime juice and 1/2 fluid ounce rhubarb shrub in an ice-filled cocktail shaker. Shake and strain into an ice-filled Collins (tall) glass. Top with tonic water.