During Paul Clarke and Neyah White's seminar on the "Art of the Aperitif," the topic drifted off to shrubs. It started with Neyah being asked what the appropriate serving size of sherry should be in a bar or restaurant setting (3-5 oz), and Neyah mentioned that he enjoyed serving 2-3 oz of sherry mixed with a 1/2 oz of shrub as an aperitif at his old bar. After having made a pair of shrubs last year using some of Neyah's online guidance (although I followed other people's boiling-based protocols), I figured that some of his Tales of the Cocktail secrets should be shared:
• Shrub is a fruit syrup fortified with vinegar. It represents the season's best, preserved and stored without the need for refrigeration.
• Neyah used the shrub at his restaurant to share what was good the day it was made. When the last bottle was running low, it was mixed with the next batch of shrub (whatever fruit/flavor it was) in a solera system that lasted for the 4 years of his tenure.
• Vinegar is great as an appetite exciter. Think pickles and olives. Which is why he spoke at length about it at the aperitif seminar.
• The secret for a good shrub is keeping the sugar and vinegar in balance (akin to lemon and sugar in a Sour, with both the lemon's citric acid and the vinegar's acetic acid giving a similar zesty bite to the drink).
• Neyah prefers that shrubs not be cooked. While cooking is quicker, the end result will be less bright. At that point, Neyah proposes that you might as well buy fresh juice instead of starting with fresh fruit.
• For a baseline recipe, use 1/3 fruit, 1/3 sugar, 1/3 vinegar.
• A sugar maceration (squeezing fruit flesh through the fingers is acceptable) stage should occur first, followed by hitting it with vinegar afterward. Neyah did not specify a time frame but the two links below suggest 5 hour (Neyah-derived recipe) to 24-48 hours.
• When a shrub ages, it is like an ecosystem. The ambient yeast (yeast on the fruit itself and yeast from the air) turns the sugar into alcohol, and the acetobacter (the bacteria in unpasteurized vinegar) turns the alcohol into more vinegar. Eventually this will stabilize and not turn the whole shrub into fruit vinegar since the bacteria-induced pH change will stall out the yeast's fermentation process (and thus the bacteria's acetic acid-producing pathway).
• Treat a shrub like a jar of pickles. Keep it cool, and let it sit for a while to even out.
Camper English at Alcademics has a good adaptation of one of Neyah's shrub recipes and the Stirred Not Shaken blog has some other recipe ideas and pointers on shrubs that are aligned and/or influenced by Neyah's philosophies.