Therin Lies The Shrub
The thought of drinking vinegar is enough to make your mouth pucker. But fear not; I am not a Goop-a-tron. I merely refer to the resurgence of shrubs - delectable drinking vinegars . Now seen in a bar near you.
Much as bartenders now give serious bar space to a host of bitters, shrubs have seemingly gained a permanent foothold in the arsenal of any half-way decent mixologist. They're a powerful way to infuse drinks with the coveted balance of tart-sweetness; as perfect in cocktails as it is blended with soda water over ice. Think moreish sweet'n'sour takeout, made liquid.
Most would credit America's New World settlers with the invention of the shrub (and it's sister, the switchel). But drinks flavoured with vinegar have a long global history - they're subtly referenced everywhere from the Bible to Dickens. Derived from a conflation of the Arabic sharab, meaning 'drink', and Persian sharbats, aromatic fruit syrups, shrubs were the original health tonics - much like Coca Cola. Indeed, vinegar was considered to have serious health benefits: sailors even sprinkled it around their ships to ward off disease.
Vinegar was a vital ingredient for survival, allowing colonial settlers to preserve seasonal gluts of fruit and vegetables for leaner months. Just as they embraced pickling, shrubs and switchels - particularly 'Haymaker's Punch' - were fundamental parts of the early American diet. Those legendary health benefits, (the same that I'm sure are at the base of the stomach curdling modern notion that a dose of ACV a day keeps the doctor away), led to the promotion of shrubs as health tonics - much like Coca Cola.
In the UK we've enthusiastically seized on fruit-steeped alcohols - essentially liquers - and shrubs are set to be the new favourite of store cupboard experimentalists. I know they're mine! Whilst I work on brewing up a recipe of my own, these are three of my favourites. (Though saying that - I'd love to add a portion of balsamic to the Elderberry shrub to make those meaty, dark flavours - technical term - pop).