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Bartenders revive the tang of old-time shrubs in modern cocktails

Arturo Vera-Felicie, bar manager at the Farmhouse in Kansas City, Mo., displays some homemade shrubs he creates using fresh produce. He holds a house-bottle cocktail called Ophelia’s Lament, made with a rhubarb-orange shrub and aquavit.

TAMMY LJUNGBLAD | Kansas City Star

Arturo Vera-Felicie, bar manager at the Farmhouse in Kansas City, Mo., displays some homemade shrubs he creates using fresh produce. He holds a house-bottle cocktail called Ophelia’s Lament, made with a rhubarb-orange shrub and aquavit.

Sour is an essential cocktail component. That's why, every day, bartenders squeeze mounds of lemons and limes.

But look closely and you'll see another ingredient quietly adding its own tang to drinks: shrubs.

These complex and bright syrups — not to be confused with those green bushes that hide your neighbors' house — are made from fruit, sugar and vinegar. They have enough acetic acid to perk up your taste buds, but they also deliver unique layers of flavor.

"Shrubs are one of the best ways to get the fruit flavor into a drink without using juice," says Mark Church, a bartender at Grunauer in the Freight House District in Kansas City, Mo.

The word "shrub" derives from "shrab," an Arabic word for drink, according to Wayne Curtis' And a Bottle of Rum (Crown Publishers, 2006).

It makes sense, said cocktail historian David Wondrich. Citrus drinks were commonplace centuries ago, and lemon juice-based shrubs remained essential to proper punch into the 17th century when lemons were not widely available, says Wondrich, the author of Punch (Perigee, 2010).

"As early as the 1690s, people were substituting vinegar for lemon juice. If you do it right, it can be very tasty."

Shrubs were also a way to extend the harvest. Colonial Americans used fruit, sugar and vinegar to make a dense, intensely flavorful syrup that could preserve the pleasing bite of the fruit.

Colonists added rum and brandy to their shrubs, or sometimes simply diluted them with water. The non-alcoholic appeal of shrubs grew in step with the temperance movement of the 19th and 20th centuries, according to Homemade Soda (Storey Publishing, 2011), but then waned after Prohibition's repeal.

So what accounts for the shrub's revival?

Wondrich chalks it up to bartenders' enthusiasm for hand-crafting unique and sometimes forgotten syrups, bitters and other ingredients. "Bartenders are making shrubs their way using history as a starting place."

Shrubs aren't just for professional bartenders, though. They're easy to create at home, too, said bartender Church. "Shrubs are so simple to make," he says. "There's no wrong way to do it."

Shrubs make for an easy highball — just combine 1 ounce shrub with 1 ½ to 2 ounces spirits in a glass. Add ice and top with tonic or soda water. For a non-alcoholic savory refresher, combine 1 ounce shrub with about 8 ounces of fizzy water or unsweetened iced tea.

>>easy

Mezcal Mule

1 ½ ounces Del Maguey Crema de Mezcal

½ ounce Strawberry-Habanero Shrub

½ ounce lime juice

Gosling's Ginger Beer

Lime wedge, for garnish

Fill an old-fashioned glass partway with crushed ice. Add mezcal, shrub and lime juice. Top with ginger beer and garnish with lime wedge.

Makes 1 drink.

>>easy

Blood and Glass

1 ½ ounces Famous Grouse Scotch whisky

½ ounce Dolin Rouge sweet vermouth

½ ounce Cherry Heering cherry brandy

½ ounce Orange Shrub

Orange twist, for garnish

Add all ingredients except orange twist to mixing glass. Fill with ice and stir until well-chilled. Strain into a coupe glass and garnish with orange twist.

Makes 1 drink.

>>easy

Strawberry-Habanero Shrub

Equal parts fresh strawberries, granulated sugar and white wine vinegar

Fresh habanero chilies, to taste

Hull and halve strawberries, and then mix in sugar. Allow to sit at room temperature for about four hours, or until strawberries have become quite juicy. Add as much seeded, chopped habanero chili as you like and the white wine vinegar. Cover tightly and refrigerate for about four days. Strain well and pour liquid into a clean jar. Cover and refrigerate.

>>easy

Orange Shrub

Oranges, sliced

White wine vinegar

Granulated sugar

Fill large jar to rim with orange slices. Muddle well to release the juices and oils. Fill jar completely with white wine vinegar. Refrigerate

for 3 to 4 days. Strain out

the orange flesh. For every

1 cup of orange vinegar, add ¾ cup of granulated sugar. Mix over medium heat until sugar dissolves. Do not boil! Remove, cool and bottle.

>>easy

Apple-Brown Sugar Shrub

Drink it with bourbon or add one part to three parts iced coffee.

8 ounces (about 1 cup) diced apples, preferably Pink Lady, Honey Crisp or Granny Smith

8 ounces (about 1 cup) brown sugar

4 ounces (about ½ cup) pasteurized apple cider vinegar

Combine apples and brown sugar in a sterilized glass jar. Shake well and allow to rest in the refrigerator for about one week, stirring after the third or fourth day. Puree apples and strain well. Combine apple juice with apple cider vinegar and adjust sugar and vinegar to taste.

Makes about 1 ½ cups.

Bartenders revive the tang of old-time shrubs in modern cocktails 05/29/12 [Last modified: Tuesday, May 29, 2012 5:30am]

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