Shrub Love

The old-fashioned drink is all the rage

The beverage world is a notoriously trendy one (see energy drinks, bubble tea, kombucha), but who saw a powdered-wig-era drink storming the scene? And one made with a healthy dose of vinegar, no less.

Shrubs are the buzzworthy bevy of 2014, a fruit-and-vinegar-based drink that dates back to colonial times. Shrub is derived from the Arabic word sharbah, which means “a drink”; “sherbet” and “syrup” also stem from the word. A modern-day shrub isn’t a drink in itself but a syrup to which you add sparkling or still water. The vinegar helps preserve the syrup and adds a tart component to what could otherwise be a cloying drink.

Healdsburg’s SHED was one of the first restaurants to offer shrubs in the North Bay. They’re served at the “fermentation bar,” along with beer, wine, kombucha and water kefir. Though not all shrubs are fermented, Gillian Helquist, SHED’s food and beverage manager and resident shrub maker, let’s hers ferment for two to three days. “I’ve been really blown away by how many people are looking for shrubs,” she says.

Helquist likes to pair the fruit with complementary herbs and spices. Vegetables can work too. The best I tried was a carrot-coriander shrub made with rice-wine vinegar. Coriander is related to the carrot, so the two meld well. She also made a great peach-lemon verbena shrub spiked with Champagne vinegar. SHED shrubs go for $4.

Some customers she’s met call shrubs “farmers’ lemonade,” a drink made from whatever fresh fruit is in abundance and needs to get used up before it gets too ripe. Other customers from the Midwest and Texas say they like to add bourbon to theirs. Vodka or rum would be good too. But at its best a shrub is about enjoying and extending the life of seasonal fruit. The sugar and vinegar in the drink means it will keep in the refrigerator for up to six months, so you can enjoy a taste of summer well into winter.

“Shrubs for me are about utilizing what fruit is abundant and on its way out,” says Helquist. “It’s a form of preservation.”

Making your own shrub is easy. Start with a pound of ripe (or even overripe) fruit. Peaches, blackberries and strawberries are particularly good right now. Wash and quarter the fruit (blackberries don’t need to be cut) and place in a large bowl.

Add one to two cups of sugar, depending on how sweet you want it. Work the sugar in with your hands, but not so much the fruit becomes a pulp. Helquist recommends a pinch of salt to accent flavors, which will also help draw out liquid.

Let the mixture macerate on the counter for two to three days, stirring a few times a day. You want it to start to ferment, and you’ll see bubbles start to appear.

Next, add your vinegar of choice. Rice wine and white wine vinegar are light and somewhat neutral. Sherry and balsamic vinegar will add their own flavors.

After adding the vinegar, combine and strain the mixture, and store in a bottle. Then pour a little of your shrub into a glass and top with water and ice, and enjoy.

SHED. 25 North St., Healdsburg. 707.431.7433.

Sonoma County Library