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Using Shrub Syrups in Cocktails or Italian Sodas

Shrub syrups (aka “drinking vinegars”) are fun and tasty additions to cocktails and mocktails.  Mocktails are most often made in the same way as an Italian Sodas (flavored syrups + carbonated water + fruit garnish). Using shrub syrups as the flavoring to carbonated water can make it easy and tasty to get in your requisite 8 glasses of water a day.

Trio of Shrub Syrups
Trio of Shrub Syrups

Shrub Syrups as a Healthy Alternative to Flavored Waters

Making your own carbonated sodas at home with a Sodastream is another trend that has gained ground in the States, even though it has been popular in Europe for some time.  

If you prefer your beverages non-alcoholic, shrub syrups can make those Sodastream waters into an “Italian Soda”. Using a shrub syrup in your Italian soda has the added health benefit of  regulating intestinal irritations due to the apple cider vinegar in most shrub syrups.  

The antioxidants from the berries in most shrub syrups are the icing on the cake.

What are Shrub Syrups:

Basically a shrub syrup is a fruity-acidic concentrated syrup that can be used to flavor carbonated water, iced tea, lemonades, or as a cocktail or mocktail ingredient.  

Although bartenders (mixologists) are embracing shrub syrups as an innovative alternative to citrus juices in craft cocktails.  I personally love them simply with carbonated water from my Soda Stream.  

My preference of shrub to water ratio is to mix 3 Tbsp. of a shrub syrup with 8 oz. of sparkling water.  The great thing about making your own drink is you can regulate the sugar content by using more or less syrup.  And….shrub syrups have a long shelf life since the vinegar and sugar act as preservatives.

The term “shrub” is derived from the Arabic word sharāb meaning “to drink”.  The American version has its origins in the 17th century, when vinegar was used to preserve berries and other fruits.  The resulting sweet and sour syrup was mixed with water or soda and served as a refreshing drink, often after a long day in the field.

A common ratio of ingredients in making a shrub syrup would be equal parts of fresh berry juice, apple cider vinegar and pure cane sugar. Of course, variations in the type of fruit, vinegar or sugar are endless, but the “mother” recipe uses the ingredients listed above in equal parts.  Aromatics are often added, sometimes in place of the berries and sometimes as an enhancement to the berries.

The process of making shrubs also varies.  Some shrub-makers prefer “cold processing”, where you let the berries steep in the sugar for days until their juices are released and then strain and add vinegar.  Others will infuse the vinegar with fruit, strain and then add sugar to taste.  

Yet others prefer simmering the syrup on the stove top to pasteurize any bacteria that might be present on the fruit.  For an example of my process, see this post.

Recipes for Cocktails and Mocktails using Shrub Syrups:

If you purchase a ready-made shrub syrup you really don’t need to add anything to make a craft cocktail except your alcohol of choice and sparkling (carbonated) water.  If you want to get a little fancier, top the cocktail with champagne or sparkling wine rather than sparkling water.

Here are a few beverages I tried out last week that I thought were particularly good.  Although I don’t drink much any more, it was fun exercising my past skills as a long-time bartender in the late 70’s and 80’s.

Martini made with Plum Orange Cinnamon Shrub Syrup
Martini made with Plum Orange Cinnamon Shrub Syrup

Damson Plum Sweet & Sour Martini:

Directions: For each cocktail, combine gin, syrup and squeeze of orange juice in cocktail shaker filled with ice.  Shake vigorously until cocktail shaker is very cold.  Strain drink into a Martini glass and garnish with cinnamon stick or orange peel.

Bourbon Sour Cherry Bomb:

Cocktail with bourbon and a tart cherry shrub syrup
Cocktail with bourbon and a tart cherry shrub syrup
  • 2 oz. good bourbon (I used Four Roses, but if you go higher end, Makers Mark is a great one)
  • 1 oz. smoked cherry shrub syrup squeeze of fresh lemon
  • 1 dash of Angostura bitters (optional)

Directions: Fill a large glass (pint glass) with ice and add bourbon, syrup, squeeze of fresh lemon and bitters.  Stir well and strain into rocks glass filled with ice.  Garnish with whole sour cherries, thyme or pink peppercorns.

Raspberry-Star Anise Italian Soda

Italian sodas made with raspberry shrub syrup
Italian sodas made with raspberry shrub syrup

Directions: Combine syrup and water in a tall glass filled with ice and stir thoroughly.  Garnish with a straw and lime or lemon peel if desired.

There you have it.  The flavor combinations are really endless and it is hard to go wrong.  As an anecdotal aside (caveat – non medical opinion), I was diagnosed at one time with a nasty intestinal problem and told to go on Prilosec long-term. 

Tried that and hated it, so I took a few tablespoons of apple cider vinegar every day for a couple of weeks and it was gone.  Voila…no more problems, and that was a long, long time ago. Shrub syrups are a much more delightful way to get your vinegar down!

2 Comments

  1. Marjorie on March 31, 2013 at 9:54 pm

    Very excited to try this. I love my Sodastream, this will be perfect on hot summer days with shrub syrups & carbonated water instead of pop.

    • dorothy stainbrook on April 1, 2013 at 6:36 am

      Hi Marjorie, the Sodastream is great isn’t it. Unfortunately those flavor packets that come with it are not so great. I think you’ll like these shrubs much better!

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