How To Make Strawberry Shrub and What to Do With It

How to make cocktails with this fruit shrub from your farmer's market haul

Shrub & Basil Cocktail
Photo: Carey Jones

This time of year farmers’ markets are bursting with berries, and whenever you bring home a big haul, there’s always the question: What do we do with all these? Our favorite summer project: Making shrubs.

Never heard of a shrub? It’s a tart fruit syrup that dates back to the days when adding acid was a crucial method of preservation. While there are many variations on shrubs, today the term generally refers to a syrup made from fresh fruit, sugar, and vinegar.

Since shrubs have vivid fruit flavor, acid, and sugar—the latter two, key elements to making cocktails—they’re excellent to mix with. And once you’ve made the shrub, the hard work is done; reach for the bottle a few days later, and you’ll find sophisticated drinks coming together in a snap.

Some prefer to macerate the fruit in sugar for a few days, a cold method of creating a shrub. Far quicker though is to cook the fruit, sugar, and water together, then add vinegar at the end. There are reasons to prefer each method, but for first-time shrubbers, we’d recommend the stovetop route—the payoff is quicker, and you get to take your shrub for a cocktail test drive that much sooner.

Here’s our method:

In a medium saucepan over low heat, combine 1 cup of water and 1 cup of sugar, and stir until sugar is dissolved. Add two cups of sliced strawberries. Cook for 15 minutes, stirring occasionally; at this point, the syrup should be very red. Remove from heat and rest for a few minutes, until cool enough to handle. Strain, reserving liquid, pressing the berries gently into the strainer to extract more juice from them. Measure the resulting liquid, and add half again as much white wine vinegar. (Ours yielded 10 ounces, so we added 5 ounces of vinegar.) Let cool before using. Will yield 2 cups of shrub and keep for at least two weeks in the refrigerator.

It’s an easy process that works for virtually any fresh fruit; berries are awesome this time of year, and blueberries, blackberries, or raspberries would all work well. But since today we’re talking strawberry shrub, here are three simple cocktail recipes to make with it.

Shurb & Soda Cocktail
Carey Jones

Easy: Shrub & Soda

It’s not often you’ll find us making non-alcoholic cocktails in this column. But if you keep a bottle of shrub on-hand, you’ll find that it’s a perfect basis for a delicious booze-free drink. Just add soda, plus a garnish for good measure; we think fresh mint works perfectly.

Instructions: In a tall glass with ice, combine 1 1/2 ounces of strawberry shrub and 4 ounces of sparkling water. Stir briefly, then garnish with a few mint leaves and one big sprig of mint. (And if you’re inclined to add some vodka or gin or white rum in there, we won’t stop you.)

Rum Shrub
Carey Jones

Intermediate: Rum Shrub

Need convincing that a shrub is a slam-dunk for sophisticated, simple cocktails? Just combine it with dark rum and ginger ale. The combination is rich and refreshing and, despite its considerable alcohol, easy to guzzle right down.

Instructions: In a cocktail shaker with ice, combine 2 ounces of rum (we’re using Diplomatico) and 1 1/2 ounces of shrub. Shake well, then strain into a big glass with ice (crushed ice, if you have it). Top with 2 ounces of ginger ale and give it a quick stir. Garnish with half a strawberry, maybe a few straws, maybe a little whimsy.

Shrub & Basil Cocktail
Carey Jones

Advanced: Shrub & Basil

Another easy drink that will work with just about any shrub you can think of: Shake it with lemon and vodka. Done. We always like to add a little something extra, so we’re turning to basil, which complements the strawberry beautifully (and makes for a great-looking garnish, too.)

Instructions: Tear up 2 basil leaves, and place in the bottom of a cocktail shaker. Gently press with a muddler. Add 1 1/2 ounces of vodka, 1 ounce of strawberry shrub, 3/4 ounce of lemon juice, and a dash of orange bitters. Add ice and shake until well-chilled. Strain into a rocks glass with fresh ice. Garnish with basil, half a strawberry, and a lemon wheel.

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