Shrubs (or Drinking Vinegars)

by Patricia Eddy on April 27, 2011

Rhubarb and Blueberry Shrubs

I have a friend who doesn’t drink. She takes some medication that doesn’t play well with alcohol, and so a number of years ago, she had to cut alcohol out of her life. We dine together on occasion, at local restaurants, and it is because of her that I’ve realized how important it is to have a repertoire of non-alcoholic drink recipes that are just as good as the alcoholic ones. When I go out to eat in a restaurant, I can usually choose a delicious beverage to compliment my meal. If I’m ordering steak, I’ll choose a robust red wine. If I’m ordering fish and chips, I’ll get a beer. Italian food (particularly at Tidbit Bistro) often finds me choosing a custom cocktail. But my friend? She’s usually limited to iced tea, Coke or Pepsi, or lemonade. Even the lemonade is more often than not out of a fountain. She doesn’t regularly have the option to have an interesting drink with her dinner.

But when we went to Joule a few years ago, they were able to accommodate her. I distinctly remember that afternoon and the discussion we had about the lack of interesting non-alcoholic drinks. Joule had a delicious drink called a shrub. A member of the Slow Food Ark of Taste, shrubs are vinegar based drinks, usually lightly sweetened and flavored with fruit. Since the drink isn’t cloyingly sweet, you can drink a lot of it without adding a significant amount of sugar to your diet, and they are incredibly easy to make at home. You can mix a little of the shrub syrup with tonic, or do what we do… invest in a soda stream and make your own unflavored sparkling water at home[1].

Blueberry Shrub

Rhubarb Shrub

Serves – A LOT… one batch will last you at least 25-30 servings

  • 2 large stalks of rhubarb, sliced into 1/2 inch slices, totaling about 2 cups
  • 2 cups of apple cider vinegar
  • 3/4-1 cup of sugar, depending on taste
  1. In a medium saucepan, heat the apple cider vinegar and rhubarb slices until just simmering.
  2. Remove from heat, transfer the mixture to a non-reactive bowl (glass is good), cover, and let steep for 24-72 hours. No need to refrigerate. You can store the covered bowl on your counter, just keep it out of direct sunlight.
  3. After 24-72 hours, strain out the rhubarb and transfer the mixture to a medium saucepan. Add the sugar and heat until simmering once more, stirring to dissolve the sugar. (Edited to add: a longer infusion of 72 hours makes a stronger and I think better shrub.)
  4. Once the mixture has started to simmer, cook for an additional 5 minutes to reduce slightly.
  5. Cool and store in the fridge in a glass container (we used mason jars).
  6. To make a delicious drink, take 1 Tbsp of the shrub mixture and place it in a glass. Pour in the tonic or sparkling water (putting the shrub mixture in first reduces the need to stir the drink). Enjoy.

Notes: This recipe will work for most any fruit you can find. We made blueberry and cherry versions as well with last year’s frozen fruit. You can adjust the sugar to meet your needs. I found that the cherry version required the least sugar, while the rhubarb version required the most. I’ve seen ginger shrubs as well which I think would be delicious. We love Rockridge Orchards’ apple cider vinegar, and it’s really quite a deal if you buy the large bottle. The small bottles go for about $6 at the markets and are something like 12 ounces. The large bottles are a gallon and sell for $10. That’s a heck of a deal. A gallon bottle will make enough for 5-6 different shrubs.

Cherry Vanilla Shrub

  • 2 cups of freshly pitted Bing cherries
  • 2 cups apple cider vinegar
  • 1 vanilla bean
  • 1-1.5 cups of sugar
  1. Add the Bing cherries, the apple cider vinegar, and the vanilla bean to a saucepan.
  2. Bring the mixture to just simmering, turn off the heat, and transfer the mixture to a non-reactive container and cover for three days.
  3. After the mixture has steeped, drain the liquid into a saucepan, discarding the cherries. Transfer the vanilla bean to the saucepan as well.
  4. Add the sugar and bring the mixture to a boil.
  5. Reduce heat and simmer for 5-7 minutes.
  6. Cool and store in the fridge indefinitely.

Variations and Substitutions

  • In addition to swapping out the fruit, you could make other versions such as a basil shrub or a sage shrub. Or mix and match fruits and herbs. Strawberries and basil go beautifully together, as to blueberries and thyme.
  • If you want the kick that alcohol delivers, feel free to mix vodka in with your shrub. We’ve also had success with Elderflower liquor and certain gins.

[1] About the soda stream… We purchased ours at Dish it Up in Ballard. You can recycle the cartridges and get a refilled one at Dish it Up and soon at Bartells as well.

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{ 39 comments }

Selana April 28, 2011 at 2:37 pm

This is very similar to a middle eastern recipe that dates back to the medieval era called a sekanjabin. Still popular, from what I understand. In europe, around the same time, they were oxymels. Mostly medicinal, as a way to add plants, herbs, etc. to one’s drink. Very cool!

Mary Sue April 28, 2011 at 10:18 pm

Awesome post! I love this idea and just needed a great recipe to make it a reality. Thanks!

dewdle April 29, 2011 at 10:48 am

“The vinegar gives the illusion of an alcoholic beverage without the alcohol – the vinegar plays on the tongue much like alcohol would.”

That turned me off from even considering this drink. Why a non-drinker would even want to mimic the taste of alcohol baffles me, ewwww! Back in the days when I bartended, most customers either wanted the taste of alcohol covered, or at least softened enough so they could sip it slowly.

AFAIK, the only people that drank alcohol on the rocks or straight/neat where either alcoholics or drinkers so desperately trying to become a “cool” drinker that they’d “acquire a taste” for it (why not call it what it is? repeatedly burning your darn taste buds – obviously I think it’s creepy for anyone to “acquire a taste” for anything. If it’s not the first time you try it, then it’s creepy and/or hypocritical to force yourself to burn your tastebuds to “fit in” socially).

IMO, drinkers WANT the buzz, and come up with ways to mask the taste so they can get their buzz on with less distaste. Oddly, some wines cook up into yummy sauces IMO. But I would never look down my nose on anyone that didn’t like a wine sauce, because I’m not desperate to be a food snob. Food should be FUN – a way to express that you care for others – not as a social weapon.

dewdle April 29, 2011 at 10:49 am

If it’s not the first time you try it <– If it’s not *GREAT* the first time you try it

(John’s Note: This post originally said “If it’s not the first time you try it <– If it’s not the first *GREAT* time you try it”, I changed it so as it would be clearer to his original intent)

Jackie Baisa April 29, 2011 at 11:12 am

The previous comment irks me. As a very infrequent drinker, I really enjoy occasionally sipping on a scotch or cognac or jenever (Belgian-style gin). I am no more an alcoholic than Charlie Sheen is a sane man.

Cassie April 29, 2011 at 11:52 am

This sounds very interesting and delicious. I wonder if it would be similar to kombucha, which has a very present vinegary taste to me (and which I love!). When I lucky enough to dine at the Herbfarm two of our party chose the non-alcoholic tasting menu and I had a couple sips–amazingly delicious.

@dewdle, you may not consider your self a FOOD snob, but you are certainly a snob. Stating that everyone who enjoys the fascinating and varied world of alcohols is a shallow, desperate alcoholic because YOU find it distasteful is the worst kind of self-righteousness.

There are many people out there that do not enjoy the taste or sensation (either on the tongue or the body as a whole) of alcohol, and there are plenty of beverages out there that do not attempt to mimic alcohol in any way for them to enjoy. From the way this article was written, however, the author’s friend is unable to partake in something that she does enjoy, and thus appreciates alternatives that mimic the play in the mouth and on the tongue of alcohol.

Appreciating the extremely varied flavors, tastes, and sensations of various alcohols from around the world has nothing to do with alcoholism, and everything to do with curiosity and an adventurous palate. Implying that “because alcoholics exist, any who enjoys alcohol is an alcoholic” is small-minded and irrational. Deep breath @dewdle…the world hasn’t quite reached Hell in our handbasket yet.

Patricia Eddy April 29, 2011 at 12:04 pm

Cassie, I do think that it has a similar mouthfeel to Kombucha. I haven’t had a kombucha that I’ve liked yet, but I’ve only had two, so it’s not exactly a wide sampling. Plus, unlike the other commenter, I believe in trying things I don’t like every once in a while just to see if my tastes have changed. I used to hate just about every vegetable until one day I tried and liked asparagus, then kale, then spinach, etc. Tastes do change and for random reasons (besides just killing off taste buds).

And yes, my non-drinking friend I mentioned does enjoy the taste of at least some alcoholic drinks, as does another friend who is currently pregnant and thus is not drinking.

Patricia Eddy April 29, 2011 at 12:23 pm

Well now, @Dwedle, I’m sorry that you were turned off by my description. I’m certainly turned off by recipe descriptions occasionally, usually ones that call for canned goods. To each his or her own.

Since you used the acronym AFAIK (as far as I know), I can only assume that we don’t know each other and that you don’t know many of my friends. Many of us enjoy the flavor of a good Scotch or bourbon and quite honestly, I didn’t have to acquire the taste for it at all. If I’m going to drink (which I do occcasionally, and not to excess), I will more often than not choose a beverage where I can taste the alcohol.

The part of your comment I would like to take the most time to address is this:

But I would never look down my nose on anyone that didn’t like a wine sauce, because I’m not desperate to be a food snob. Food should be FUN – a way to express that you care for others – not as a social weapon.

On that point I completely agree with you. I don’t believe I have ever looked down my nose at a non-drinker. One of my best friends simply doesn’t like the taste and I’ve never considered myself to be better than him for his beverage choices (or anything else). In fact, as I posted this recipe so that no one would have to feel left out at a dinner party or any situation where it might be fun to consume a beverage other than water, tea, coffee, or soda, I think I’ve expressed very well that I care for my non-drinking friends and want them to be happy.

Melanie May 2, 2011 at 12:21 pm

I love the idea of this, and look forward to trying it. Though I am having a hard time getting past the name, all I keep hearing in my head are the Knights Who Say Ni asking for a nice shrubbery.

Patricia Eddy May 2, 2011 at 12:42 pm

Melanie, Would it help if you call them drinking vinegars? I’ve seen them called that before as well. :-)

Cathy July 26, 2011 at 5:18 pm

Patricia– Would this method of infusing vinegar work with lavender and sweetened with stevia? I’ve got both growing in my garden (already dried and powdered the stevia) and would love to give it a try. Any recommendations for how much lavender to use? And, would you recommend dried or fresh?

Patricia Eddy July 27, 2011 at 3:28 pm

Definitely! I’m infusing a vinegar with rosemary today. You can even add the sweetener when you’re making the drink .

Patricia Eddy July 27, 2011 at 6:56 pm

Oops, hit enter too soon! As for how much lavender… it’s really up to you. However, when I used rosemary, I used about 1/4 cup for 2 cups of vinegar. I think I could have used more, so I’d probably do up to half a cup of lavender for 2 cups of vinegar.

juanita August 1, 2011 at 8:23 am

Thanks so much for this!

I just had an amazing Rhubarb Fieldhand Shrub at one of our favorite restaurants in Baltimore, Woodberry Kitchen, and was hoping I could find a recipe online. I also wanted to find a tastier way to drink apple cider vinegar, and am going to try this with some vinegar that has “the mother” in it (the vinegar “starter”).

@Cathy – did you try the stevia-sweetened version yet, and did you use any sugar or just the stevia?

David Hauntz August 6, 2011 at 3:00 pm

You need to add a “print” button to your website!!!

Patricia Eddy August 6, 2011 at 3:20 pm

Sorry about that, David! We had one, but then one of our plugins stopped working and we replaced it. I’ll get a print button up tonight or tomorrow at the latest.

Doug Nyland August 8, 2011 at 6:34 pm

Beautiful idea, withOUT the Soda Stream. Use tonic or bottled soda water instead.

Soda Stream is produced in occupied Palestine, on land that was not purchased; rather, stolen from its rightful owners. While I wouldn’t advocate boycotting a locally-owned retailer just for this mistakenly-stocked item, consider boycotting Bed, Bath & Beyond for carrying this product, as well as one other product (Ahava) from the occupied West Bank.

Still, enjoying a shrub without Soda Stream sounds wonderful.

Patricia Eddy August 9, 2011 at 5:42 am

Doug, thank you for your comment.

Beth August 10, 2011 at 11:38 am

What a fabulous idea! I love to entertain and I’ve always been frustrated with the lack of truly interesting beverage options for non-drinking friends and family. One of the pleasures of alcoholic beverages for me is the endless variety of combinations of ingredients and pairings with food, and now I have something non-alcoholic to play with in a similar way. Great post, thanks a million!

Alma August 10, 2011 at 2:51 pm

I just heard this discussed on the radio. It sounds delicious, and I absolutely agree that there need to be more ‘interesting’ non-alcoholic drinks. I’m hoping to try this with mint and ginger.

Sharon August 10, 2011 at 3:04 pm

Thanks for this great idea! I’m interested in the medicinal/anti-inflammatory properties of vinegar since I’ve started a meds regimen that advises against consuming alcohol. But the whole idea is so interesting and I’m gonna do it!!

Felix August 10, 2011 at 9:16 pm

Wow, just heard this on the radio. One of my best friends just found out she was pregnant, and she loves beer, so this is just a godsend. Thanks so much!

Nan Kunze August 11, 2011 at 6:31 pm

I LOVE this idea and will try it as I so love vinegar! When you use herbs like basil, do you add the herbs with the first or the second simmer?

Patricia Eddy August 11, 2011 at 6:37 pm

Nan, I add the herbs with the first simmer.

cynthia eloise August 13, 2011 at 8:57 am

these drinks sound interesting, also beautiful sitting in a window. think i will try them.

Alexander K August 13, 2011 at 12:00 pm

I enjoyed this article as I am always excited to see more people exposed drinking vinegars as an alternative beverage. I was so inspired from trying some apple drinking vinegar at Pok Pok in Portland last year, that I have begun to make my own shrubs and sodas and documenting the process of one each week. If anyone is interested in seeing some other wild flavors of shrub, please come visit me at http://bringmeashrub.blogspot.com

I hope more people pick up on how much fun these are to drink, and to make.

Mr. P August 23, 2011 at 6:10 pm

Patricia – I contacted you last week as I was so extremely enthusiastic to try my hand at some Shrub makin’ fun! The process of infusing was really a great experience I enjoyed sharing with my 3 yr. old. I’ve had even more fun sharing the syrup with my friends and coworkers the past few days – all who react very delightfully to the flavor and concept. I made four – 64 oz bottles, but I used slightly more sugar than I read from your recipes. Pineapple Rosemary, Strawberry Rhubarb (my favorite) and Cherry Vanilla – all with Apple Cider Vinegar. Then for fun I made Blackberry Plum with a rice vinegar and found it goes ever so nicely with champagne!

Thanks for the fun idea and great post.

Patricia Eddy August 23, 2011 at 7:41 pm

I’m so glad you’re having fun with the shrubs! I’m also so glad you were able to share it with your child! That’s so wonderful. Pineapple rosemary sounds divine. If I decide to splurge on a non-local fruit, I’m definitely going to try that one.

Megan August 25, 2011 at 8:19 am

Hi Patricia, thank you for a very fun sounding recipe, I’m excited to try it! Probably a silly question, but I want to make sure I don’t mess it up! After you transfer the mixture to a non-reactive bowl and cover to steep, are you supposed to refrigerate for the 24 – 72 hours, or do you leave covered on your counter and let it steep at room temperature? Thank you so much!

Patricia Eddy August 25, 2011 at 8:22 am

Megan, you don’t need to refrigerate it. I suppose you could, but if you did, I’d let it steep an additional day at least. I’ve always left them on the counter though. I would recommend keeping the bowl out of direct sunlight and not storing it say, on your stove, but room temperature is fine. I should add that to the post though as you’re not the first person who has asked.

Liz September 10, 2011 at 5:59 pm

Mr. P., my 3-year-old loves shrub, too. So do my more adventurous friends, one of whom I just shared this link with after he tried some. (It’s fun to see who likes it and who makes a yucky face.) We drank up all the rhubarb we made back in May, but since then we’ve tried strawberry-basil with balsamic, blueberry-thyme, and–the best by far–plum with rosemary, lavender and honey. Now the pears are in, we’ll be making up a big batch to get us through the winter. Maybe with cloves? black pepper? ideas?

Patricia Eddy September 10, 2011 at 6:13 pm

I’d try cardamom and ginger with the pears. A friend tried cardamom, ginger, tangerine and it was like Thanksgiving. (In a good way)

Loretta September 14, 2011 at 10:50 am

Heard about shrubs on KUOW. What an AWESOME idea! I just brought some mountain chokecherries back from Colorado, and I’m going to try using persimmon vinegar I bought at Boo Han Korean grocery in Edmonds. This is what I’m making people for Christmas presents this year!

Becky October 24, 2011 at 6:04 am

This sounds like a wonderful alternative to alcohol! For those of you using fresh herbs (basil) or roots (ginger), is 1/2 cup about right? And what about dried/hard like cardamom (I’m thinking less than 1/4 cup)? I’m also wondering how dried fruit would do in this. I’ve got the most divine dried cherries from Michigan (Traverse Bay) that I’d like to try. They’ve got a bit of sugar already added, so I’d probably cut the sugar in half. Final query, I promise: for the balsamic addition: is that plus the apple cider vinegar or in lieu of? Thanks for any advice!

michael October 25, 2011 at 5:19 am

i made a concord-grape based shrub this weekend. (dry quart of grapes::2 c sugar::2cups bragg apple cider vinegar.) very tasty–between the sugar and the vinegar, a LOT of extraction of the phenols, esters, etc. so, an intense flavor–more intense than the actual fruit.

anyway, i’m just not refrigerating mine at all. the acidity is very high–high enough to prevent spoilage. i’m sure some natural fermentation will continue (bragg is raw, moreover, it’s florida & my wife is a sourdough baker–lots of yeasts and lacto-bacilli in my kitchen.) but who cares? it will only improve the flavor and at worst effervesce the stuff. mmm….

Patricia Eddy October 25, 2011 at 7:58 am

Hi Becky,

The fresh herbs… I’d say that basil and oregano, about 1/4 cup packed for 1-2 cups of fruit is probably about right. You could probably add more basil, but less ginger since it’s such a strong flavor. For cardamom or coriander, I’d do about 1/8 of a cup to start. The best thing about these drinks is that after three days of infusion time, you can taste and see before cooking. Sure, it’ll be tart without the sugar, but you’ll get a sense of the flavor and whether you want to soak the fruit longer or add more herbs. The acid content is so high that if you needed to soak another couple of days after the initial 3 day soak, you wouldn’t see any spoilage.

I think dried fruit would be amazing as well. The only issue you’d run into there would be that you’d end up with a bit less liquid at the end as the fruit would absorb it. but just know that going in.

I haven’t tried with balsamic yet. I’d love to do an entire shrub with only balsamic. Maybe with strawberries. However, it’s just so darn expensive for the vinegar that I haven’t done it yet. But I’d do it without the apple cider vinegar. You probably could use some other mild vinegar, like maybe white wine vinegar, and then add a few splashes of balsamic to that. I just wouldn’t use a vinegar as strongly flavored as balsamic with the apple cider vinegar.

Patricia Eddy October 25, 2011 at 7:58 am

I don’t know why I never thought of grapes. They are such luscious fruits that I’m sure they’d be an amazing flavor. If there are still grapes at the market this weekend I’m going to try that!

Dan January 1, 2012 at 1:09 pm

Hi Patricia, I hate the thought of wasting fruit….can the fruit be blended into a puree and used in the final product? Other than it not being clear, would it alter flavor, cause fermentation, or any other negative effect?
Thanks, can’t wait to try it.

Patricia Eddy January 1, 2012 at 1:11 pm

I think it might make it too thick to adequately mix with sparkling water. However, I don’t think it would cause any issues. It should make the flavor a little more intense. I’ve also used the fruit afterwards pureed, in salad dressings and sauces.

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