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.
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
- In a medium saucepan, heat the apple cider vinegar and rhubarb slices until just simmering.
- 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.
- 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.)
- Once the mixture has started to simmer, cook for an additional 5 minutes to reduce slightly.
- Cool and store in the fridge in a glass container (we used mason jars).
- 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
- Add the Bing cherries, the apple cider vinegar, and the vanilla bean to a saucepan.
- Bring the mixture to just simmering, turn off the heat, and transfer the mixture to a non-reactive container and cover for three days.
- After the mixture has steeped, drain the liquid into a saucepan, discarding the cherries. Transfer the vanilla bean to the saucepan as well.
- Add the sugar and bring the mixture to a boil.
- Reduce heat and simmer for 5-7 minutes.
- 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.
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