I Don’t Want No Shrubs

Ok, so I just wanted to say it. Actually I do want shrubs. Lots of them. And so you do, and that’s why I’ve been making them all summer at Pourhouse.  In case you missed the memo, let’s go through a little history and a little list of flavour options.

So what exactly is a shrub? In the UK, the term refers to simply a drinkable fruit cordial or syrup, but the more common definition refers to a drink popular in Colonial America (at least as old as 17th century). In these days, long before refrigeration or ice farming, there were very few ways to preserve food. Obviously brainstorming on the idea brought us things like jam, cured meats, aged cheese, cider, wine, aged spirits, vermouth, and so on. A very common way to preserve fruit in this time period was to pour some vinegar over it. This acidic environment stopped bacterial growth, making fruit safe to eat longer. Once fruit, with all its delicious natural sugar, sat in vinegar for a few days, it actually began to dehydrate, creating an acidic fruit syrup. People found that this mixture is actually delicious to enjoy on its own, albeit quite intense, so later still or carbonated water was added when available.  Water was much harder to come by than alcohol at the time, so people would often ‘soften’ it with brandy or whatever they had lying around the house. Plus, what better thing to do with something delicious than add booze to it?

Shrubs became commonplace, even in the bar, and were actually listed in Jerry Thomas’ bartending tomes (see previous posts on the most famous of all bartenders), and are not fancified at all – add fruit to sugar to vinegar and add spirits.

Over the last few years, shrubs have been popping up on cocktail menus, though typically as an ingredient rather than a drink itself. Being painfully old fashioned and taking our inspiration as always from older times, I wanted to make shrubs as simply as possible as they would have been when they first became popular, and serve them as just a single drink itself so the fresh fruit, vinegar, and spirit can be enjoyed for their flavours alone. So all this summer I’ve been buying fresh (preferably local and organic) fruit whenever I can and making batches of shrubs, sharing a new one every few days with our lovely, overheating customers.

As we move into fall, the shrub will be retired from the menu, BUT will live on in our hearts and fridges… as part of our upcoming happy hour program (more details on this soon). Fall is a great time for shrubs, with late summer flavours like apple, blackberry, and pear. The spirits will get richer (think Scotch, bourbon, and brandy), and I might even spice a few for good measure.

But we’re not there yet. Summer is still going and we’ve still got some bright, pretty, and refreshing flavours for you to try. Here’s some you missed so far:

Peach, bourbon, and apple cider vinegar

Strawberry, mezcal, and apple cider vinegar

Raspberry, applejack, and red wine vinegar

Cantaloupe, gin, and white wine vinegar

Lime, dark rum, organic cane sugar, and apple cider vinegar


And here’s what’s happening over the next couple weeks:

Blueberry, bourbon, and apple cider vinegar

Pineapple, rum, and white wine vinegar

Organic watermelon, bourbon (and gin too!), and wine vinegars


And keep an eye out for a returning favourite of dark cherries, balsamic vinegar, and peated Scotch. For real.

Stay tuned, as soon I’ll share a basic shrub recipe and technique for you to make your own at home should you feel adventurous.


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