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The Hottest Summer Drink? Shrubs

The Hottest Summer Drink? Shrubs


When you hear the word “shrub,” you’d be forgiven if your mind immediately conjures up images of Monty Python’s Knights who say “Ni!,” who not only terrorized King Arthur and his knights but demanded they find a shrubbery.

Rather we are talking about vinegars infused with fruits, vegetables, herbs, or just about any other ingredient. These syrups are starting to be “rediscovered” as the perfect component for a bright, zippy, and citrusy cocktail.

According to Shrubs: An Old Fashioned Drink for Modern Times by Michael Dietsch, people have been imbibing and ultizing  vinegar for thousands of years. Archeologists have found traces of vinegar in pots dating back 4,000 years in ancient Egypt, and there are even references to drinking vinegar in the Old Testament.

As for the word shrub, it’s said to have come from the Arabic word shar?b or what we would call sherbet. Only this wasn’t a frozen dessert. Rather it was “the world’s first soft drink,” writes Dietsch. It was a mixture of citrus juice, edible flowers, herbs, and other ingredients. It was enjoyed in Turkey and what was then Persia — now Iran. It eventually made its way to Europe via trade ships in the 17th and 18th centuries, where the name was eventually shortened to “shrub.”

These concoctions made their way to the young American colonies. While they weren’t quite the shrubs we see on trendy cocktail lists today, they were vital to early American life as vinegar was a way to preserve food before refrigeration, according to Bitters & Shrub Syrup Cocktails by Warren Bobrow. They were enjoyed by everyone from Martha Washington and Benjamin Franklin to sailors hoping to ward off scurvy to farmers looking for something enjoyable at dinner, according to Dietsch.

It’s in 1829 we see the first reference to what we would consider a modern day shrub cocktail in a cookbook by Lydia Maria Child, who also gave us classics like the poem, “Over the River and Through the Wood.” Today, shrubs seem to be having their moment in the sun again.

“Shrubs are exciting, but they aren’t new,” said Eric Skokan with a chuckle. Skokan is the chef and owner of Bramble & Hare and sister restaurant Black Cat Bistro, both of which are in Boulder and offer non-alcoholic shrubs.

Here’s a look at these re-emerging cocktails and why they should be on your radar this summer — and all year, really.

Shrubs, a blank canvas

“There are no wrong answers when making shrubs, and that’s the fun part,” said Noah Elkind, bar manager of Farow in Niwot. “You can do some really wacky stuff, experiment, and just play around.” Indeed his shrubs vary depending on the season, but past ingredients have ranged from grapefruit to crab apple.

However, whether you’re an avid cocktail drinker or someone who just likes to sip on a mixed drink occasionally, you still might be thinking to yourself, “Okay, but vinegar?”

“The first question I often get is: ‘Will this drink taste like vinegar?’” said Jonathon Morse, bar manager of License No. 1 in Boulder. “Which is understandable, but a complex cocktail will have so many opposing flavors that the tartness of the shrub will play its role. And what you’ll end up with is this perfectly balanced drink with a wild ensemble of flavors.”

Naturally, the flavors of these drinks will vary depending on the ingredients. But in general, they are tart, citrusy, and earthy and therefore have the makings of the perfect low-ABV cocktail for summer. Morse has made his shrubs with a wide variety of ingredients. The most recent one he’s excited about is his Shepherd  cocktail, which is made with a pineapple shrub.

“I can only describe the drink’s taste as a tropical taco,” he said with a laugh. But along with adding shrubs to original cocktails, Morse also enjoys mixing them into the classics when citrus just isn’t enough.

One thing Tyler Nemkov, bar manager of Bramble & Hare would like you to remember: “You can make shrubs out of vegetables too!” Indeed, Skokan owns a 425-acre organic farm that provides the majority of the meat and produce to both his restaurants. So, what’s available for shrubs will vary greatly.

The sustainable side of shrubs

Much like how early colonists and other cultures around the world utilized vinegar for preserving food, craft bartenders are starting to do the same.

“We’re going back to the cooking and preservation techniques that our grandparents and great-grandparents used,” said Skokan.

Nemkov echoed this sentiment, noting how last year there was a major frost on the farm. So they needed to quickly harvest a lot of food and figure out what to do with peppers, tomatoes, herbs, and other crops. Much of that harvest went into making shrubs.

Similarly, Elkind utilizes shrubs to provide ingredients year-round that might not otherwise be available.

“We only ever ship grapefruits during citrus season, which most people don’t realize is in January,” said Elkind. “But it’s something that people want to drink in the summer. With the shrubs, we can preserve the grapefruit flavor and utilize it for longer rather than continually having to have citrus shipped all year.”

The future of shrubs

“Shrubs seem to be having a moment,” said Elkind, who explained, “There’s a much bigger focus in restaurants when it comes to environmental sustainability. And that’s a big reason why I like using them.”

Or as Skokan said, “It doesn’t make sense for me to try to take care of people with good food and drink by trashing the environment at the same time.”

Morse agreed, he hopes other bartenders will continue to push the envelope when it comes to making these drinks. And perhaps, more importantly, be open and willing to educate curious consumers, so they are more willing to give shrubs a shot.

“When people think of cocktails, they often think of boozy martinis or old fashioneds,” said Morse. “And those are great, but there is a whole world of lighter, lower-ABV,  refreshingly citrusy, and bright cocktails ready to be explored.”


Strike Two

  • Courtesy of Farow
  • 2 ounces rum
  • 1 ounce orange shrub*
  • .75 ounce Giffard Caribbean Pineapple liqueur
  • .5 ounce Granada-Vallet
  • .5 ounce simple syrup
  • *orange shrub
  • 100 grams fresh squeezed orange juice
  • 100 grams white vinegar
  • 25 grams simple syrup

The Shepherd

  • 1 ounce Abasolo Mexican Corn Whiskey
  • ½ ounce  Nixta Licor de Elote
  • ¾ ounce Achiote Syrup
  • ½ ounce Citrus Shrub
  • ½ ounce Pineapple Oleo Saccharum
  • 3 drops of 20% Saline Solution
  • -Garnish with a dehydrated lime wheel and 4 atomizer sprays of Mezcal


  1. -Shake & Fine Strain over
  2. Chilled Double Old Fashioned glass
  3. with large cube


Kristen Richard
When I'm not traveling down a rabbit hole of random esoteric knowledge, you can usually find me camping, hiking, biking, reading, hanging with my dog or rocking out to metal bands.

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