The Shrub Is the Simplest Sour Drink You Can Make

Bartenders are reaching for these vinegar-based concoctions to add a sour kick to cocktails.

Strawberry Chili Balsamic Shrub

Jennifer Causey / Food Styling by Chelsea Zimmer / Prop Styling by Christine Keely

The next time you're reaching  for a lime or a lemon to add to a cocktail, consider making a shrub instead, suggests Erin Healy, beverage director of Gramercy Tavern in New York City.

What is a shrub?

Shrubs are concentrated, vinegar-based syrups that have been either infused with or made from flavorings like fruit, flowers, and chiles. Shrubs have been around for centuries and were originally created to preserve herbs and roots by turning them into edible tinctures. They contain no alcohol, and their silky weight—similar to the texture of amaros and liqueurs — also brings body and depth to non-alcoholic cocktails, a segment of the drinks industry that was an early adopter of the vinegar-based syrup. More recently, shrubs are enjoying a renaissance on cocktail menus around the country, as bartenders use them to bring brightness and acidity to boozy drinks.

“A shrub opens up a whole new dynamic set of flavor profiles to bring to a cocktail outside of the traditional lemon, lime, or grapefruit,” says Healy. And a little goes a long way. “We never use more than a scant quarter-ounce of vinegar in a cocktail that may otherwise take up to an ounce of citrus to create balance.”

Shrubs can be flavored with just about anything, from chile and strawberry to vegetables (like the celery-flavored shrub below from NYC bar Katana Kitten’s owner and self-proclaimed “director of deliciousness” Masahiro Urushido). Don’t care to make your own? Try one of our favorite cocktail-ready bottled shrubs.

3 top-shelf shrubs to try

Kosterina Crushed Strawberry Vinegar

The essence of strawberry captured in a bottle, Kosterina’s sweet and tangy strawberry shrub is made of white wine vinegar from Greece. Mix it with smoky mezcal to bring out the roasted berry notes, or add it to an herbaceous gin & tonic. $15 at

Pink House Alchemy Pineapple Rosemary Shrub

Sweet pineapple is balanced by tart vinegar and woody rosemary in this unexpected shrub from Fayetteville, Arkansas. It makes a great addition to a piña colada on the rocks, or sip it solo with some seltzer. $18 at

Acid League Citrus Saffron Syrup

Vinegar brand Acid League’s recently launched Ultimate Cocktail Kit includes this shrub, which combines fragrant saffron with two types of vinegar: plantain and orange. It pairs perfectly with sweeter spirits like rum or brandy. $145 for the Ultimate Cocktail Kit at

How to make a shrub

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Strawberry-Chile Balsamic Shrub

Strawberry Chili Balsamic Shrub

Jennifer Causey / Food Styling by Chelsea Zimmer / Prop Styling by Christine Keely

Sweet strawberries meet up with tart balsamic and smoky chiles in this fruity shrub. For a piquant take on a spritz, add about 1 tablespoon shrub to an ice-filled highball glass (with or without mezcal), and top with soda.

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Celery and Salt Shrub

Celery Salt Shrub

Jennifer Causey / Food Styling by Chelsea Zimmer / Prop Styling by Christine Keely

The flavor of this earthy, celery-forward shrub from award-winning bartender Masahiro Urushido of NYC’s Katana Kitten is reminiscent of Dr. Brown’s Cel-Ray soda, a soft drink that was popular in the Northeast. Urushido pairs his shrub with vodka, lime, and cucumber — using about 1 tablespoon shrub for a high-ball cocktail.

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