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By Maren McGowan

One of my favorite bar ingredients right now is the shrub. Shrubs have quite a long history, and have been used for preservation and medicinal purposes, as well as a mixer in alcoholic beverages. In the last 10 years, shrubs have re-emerged as a popular way to make more interesting no-alcohol beverages and cocktails alike.

Search the internet and you will find a colorful history for shrubs. There are references to Babylonians mixing date vinegar with the water to make it safer to drink, or the preservation method in 15th century England where fruits and vinegar were placed in barrels and the syrup later used in a beverage for medicinal purposes. There is also information tracing this pre-refrigeration preservation method back to early Roman times, and a story of sailors drawn to shrubs as a way to ward off evil and prevent ailments (scurvy anyone???). In later centuries, shrubs became a popular mixer with alcohol, and temperance advocates viewed them as a more flavorful alternative to liquor-based beverages. Early colonial cookbooks often include recipes for shrubs in them.

Shrubs: ginger-lime, cherry-mint, strawberry chile

With the advent of refrigeration, shrubs disappeared from daily life. Had it not been for the craft cocktail revolution of the early 2000s, we might have forgotten all about them. Professional bartenders and restauranteurs became more interested in the historical aspect of cocktail culture, as well as exploring more sophisticated cocktail ideas and methods. Restaurants with a "farm-to-table" approach looked to the bar to represent the same kind of menu, using seasonal ingredients sourced closer to home.

In short, shrubs are a simple concoction of a fruit with sugar and vinegar. With the right balance, the main ingredient is the star. They should neither be too syrupy sweet, nor too heavy on the vinegar. Too heavy in one direction, and the sweet or acid overshadows the main ingredient. Depending on the fruit, you slice it or smash it, add sugar, let it macerate for 24-72 hours, drain, and add vinegar. Using complimentary herbs, dried spice or citrus zest can also brighten the shrub or add a layer of complexity that really makes it shine in a cocktail. The shelf life is approximately 6 months, so they are also a great way to feature a summer ingredient in a fall cocktail.

I love going to the farmer's market and buying stacks of large flats of berries, or cases of stone fruit…everyone thinks I am making jam, but I am actually making shrubs! My husband, Matt, the chef of our restaurant will then use the fruit "by-product" of my shrub production in various desserts or other items on our menu. It's a great way to showcase locally grown produce on both our food and beverage menus, as well as decrease waste in our restaurant workflow which really compliments our sustainability goals.

Shrubs are such a great addition to your beverage pantry. They are super simple to make, and a great way to explore the possibilities of interesting beverages and cocktails. You can make small batches without a huge investment, so throw caution to the wind, and tap into your creativity!

Here's a recipe for one of my current favorites, plus a beverage and cocktail using it:

Blackberry-Lime Shrub

Recipe yield approximately 1-2 cups of shrub.


  • 300 g blackberries (approximately 1.5 cups)
  • Zest of 5 limes
  • 200 g sugar (1 cup)

· **Red wine vinegar-1:3 ratio vinegar to fruit syrup (we use 1 gram of vinegar per 4 grams fruit syrup)


1. Place fruit, zest, and sugar in a bowl.
2. Smash the fruit and stir to incorporate the sugar and zest.
3. Cover, place in refrigerator for minimum 24 hours. I let my shrubs macerate for 2-3 days, stirring every day until sugar is completely dissolved. This prevents undissolved sugar sticking to the fruit when you drain the shrub, and also maximizes the yield of syrup in the batch. We make very large batches at the restaurant, but a shorter maceration period is fine for a small batch. We also use the leftover fruit in other recipes, such as a fruit puree for a dessert.
4. Strain the macerated fruit through a fine mesh strainer into a bowl.
5. Add the vinegar to the fruit syrup in the ratio listed above. If you have sugar solids clinging to the fruit, you can pour the vinegar/syrup mixture back over the fruit to capture that. See #3 for how to avoid this…pouring the vinegar back over the fruit can render it useless for another recipe, and then you have to discard it.
6. Mason jars work perfectly to store your small batches of shrub in the refrigerator.

**I like inexpensive red wine vinegar or Bragg's Apple Cider Vinegar in my shrubs. More sophisticated vinegars can have a complexity that will interfere with the flavor of the shrub. Each shrub has its own personality, so experiment with the vinegars you use to find the right balance. Keep it simple!

Blackberry Shrub Beverage

Add 1 oz (or more to taste) to a 12 ounce glass of club soda or seltzer with ice. Garnish with a lime wheel.

Blackberry Margarita

  • 2 oz Olmeca Altos Plata Tequila
  • 1 + 1/2 oz Blackberry Shrub
  • 1/4 oz fresh squeezed lime juice

Shake and strain into an iced double rocks glass with a salted rim, garnish with a lime wheel.

Maren McGowan is co-owner of Dovetail Joint Restaurant in Richland, Washington. She has worked in restaurants most of her adult life, in Sacramento and Washington. She and chef husband Matt owned and operated the Glass Onion restaurant in Goldendale, Washington, for nine years. They sold it in 2017 but had started a food cart in Richland that they ran simultaneously for a year. They opened Dovetail Joint in Richland in 2019 and have sold the food cart. Dovetail Joint is in the Uptown Shopping Center. 509-578-1919.

January 2021

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