If you’ve tried a shrub cocktail, you may have fallen for this relatively new addition to the beverage scene. But what exactly is shrub? And where did it come from?
Shrub, a fruit-vinegar-sugar concoction, is preserved fruit syrup sometimes referred to as “drinking vinegar”. It is non-alcoholic, and is made at the peak of summer when fruit is at its ripest. Even the most basic shrub cocktail — a spoonful of syrup mixed with ice-cold carbonated water — is effervescent and complex. Mixologists use shrub as an alternative to bitters to bring similar brightness to more potent drinks. A good shrub cocktail, served cold and sparkling, promises to refresh on even the hottest days.
At Driver’s Market, we carry INNA Shrub, a product of the INNA Jam company of Emeryville. To Graham Driver, INNA is a perfect fit at the market. “INNA products hit so many of our criteria. They’re made locally, using locally sourced organic ingredients. They’re single-varietal, artisanal, and supremely tasty,” he said.
Shrub began to appear on well-stocked grocery shelves and in hip cocktails in 2011 or 2012. But it has a long history as a restorative — and even medicinal — addition to beverages going back hundreds of years.
Shrub comes from the word sharab, Arabic for “drink”, and originated long before refrigeration, when preserving fruits as jams, pickles and shrub was a necessity. The preservative in shrub is vinegar, which keeps fruit syrup from spoiling over a hot summer, an ocean voyage, or a long winter.
Shrubs were popular in 17th and 18th century England, used as medicinal cordials and refreshing spritzers. Seafarers used shrub to mask the taste of salt water on barrels of spirits and fresh water. It was thought that shrub could help ward off scurvy and aid digestion.
Colonial Americans used shrub spritzers to cool off during hot summers, and would give the non-alcoholic beverages to their children. When Americans started to use home refrigeration in the 1830s, shrub fell out of fashion.
Thanks to modern-day artisans, like Dafna Kory of INNA Shrub, the syrups are making a comeback.