Shrubs are by no means a new invention, but they're still revolutionizing our warm-weather cocktail game. The exact origins are a bit blurry, but the word shrub first appeared in 1747, when the English began spiking their drinks with the zippy concentrate created from the leftover vinegar from fruit preservation.
So, really, when spring and summer roll around, everyone loves drinking like it's the 18th century. These highly concentrated and refreshingly tart syrups are a go-to ingredient for both professional bartenders and at-home cocktail fans thanks to the drinking vinegar's unfussy nature.
With a shrub at hand, you can easily craft a cocktail by just taking your base liquor of choice and topping it off with something bubbly—the acidic wallop of flavor from the shrub is all you need. (They're also a great choice for livening up sparkling water, if you're going the alcohol-free route.)
And making the sweet-and-sour concoction at home is quite easy, if you so desire. The simplest recipes can boil down to a 1:1:1 ratio of fruit, sugar, and vinegar—and the flavor combinations can be taken as far as your creativity allows. Herbs and spices make great additions to shrubs, too.
Here, we embrace relying on the pros to get our shrub fix. These 5 small-batch purveyors have perfected their own recipes—and we're definitely taking note for when we make our very first batch.
The Kansas City Canning Co.
Kansas City Canning Co. began from a desire to create a modern approach to the art of food preservation. The company's pickles and preserves—balsamic grapes, green tomatoes, ancho date butter—are a great indication of the inventiveness you can expect from their shrubs, as well. Their blood orange ginger shrub is perfect for your next paloma; the watermelon habanero flavor will quickly become a summer standby; and the smoked and spiced pear infused with warming spices like black peppercorns, juniper berries, and cloves can hold its own against darker spirits such as bourbon and rye.
The Hudson Standard
This small Hudson Valley-based company was on the forefront of the bitters trend back in 2012, before adding shrubs to their line of products. Their drinking vinegars—winter switchel, strawberry rhubarb, apple coriander maple, peach lavender—are also a reflection of the company's commitment to their Hudson Valley region. They work with local farms to source as many of the ingredients as possible from the surrounding area.
With flavors like prickly pear, tomatillo lime serrano, and Texas Ruby Red grapefruit, the hand-crafted drinking vinegars from San Antonio-based Shrub Drinks instantly make us think of one thing: tequila. The Texas flare of these first-rate shrubs have solidified them as essentials for our next round of tequila cocktails. (Preferably with an equally great spread of Tex-Mex classics to round out the theme.)
The demand for Dafna Kory's unique jams was so high that she decided to launch an entire line of shrubs inspired by the flavors of her sought-after preserves, including Meyer lemon, quince, bearss lime, triple crown blackberry, albion strawberry, and many others. Kory's signature use of single-varietal produce in both her jams and shrubs guarantee a unique twist on your next cocktail or all-natural soda.
Pok Pok Som
Chef Andy Ricker of Pok Pok (in Brooklyn, Los Angeles, and Portland, OR) started making in-house drinking vinegars at the first Portland location after realizing they were the perfect match for his Isaan-style Thai food. The bar began using the zingy vinegars in cocktails to provide some much-needed relief from the notoriously spicy and pungent flavors of his style of Northern Thai cooking. Luckily, Ricker began bottling the flavors and went national. Now everyone can craft seemingly complex, Asian-inspired cocktails with flavors like Chinese celery, Thai basil, and tamarind at their disposal.