Shrubs are nothing more than a Colonial-era method of preserving fruit by soaking it in vinegar for an extended period of time, turning the natural sugars in the fruit into a tangy syrup. Sometimes additional sugar and alcohol are involved, sometimes a few extra spices for flavor, but that’s the gist of it. Shrubs are sometimes known these days as “drinking vinegars,” which I’m not quite sure makes for a more enticing name. I personally don’t mind drinking vinegar—in my carefree youth, I would grab a basket of fresh-cut fries from the Potato Patch at Kennywood and a little paper cup of malt vinegar, then take turns eating a fry and sipping the vinegar.
But I’m a weirdo. And for the likely larger part of the population who doesn’t sip malt vinegar from a paper cup, a shrub (as well as its kissing cousin, the switchel) sounds way more festive to my ears. And whatever you want to call it, it’s also music to my tastebuds. The pungent acidity of vinegar is softened by the fruits floating in it, providing that sweet-tart balance I can’t get enough of.
While most shrub recipes call for a long maceration time—up to a week in some cases—to incorporate as much sweet goodness as possible from the fruit it’s preserving, I get impatient with the process and always look for ways to speed things up. Though I have used cooked simple syrup to bring flavor and sweetness to the drink without a lengthy rest time, as in my grapefruit shrub recipe, the following strawberry shrub recipe follows more of a traditional method. Luckily, in-season strawberries have so much juicy flavor that it doesn’t take too long to pull everything tasty out of each berry.
How to use your strawberry shrub? Almost any way you want, honestly. Though strawberries are exceedingly sweet and Champagne vinegar is one of the most delicately acidic vinegars out there, it’s still going to be a strong mix-in for your drinks. If you’re brave or super vinegar-loving, mixing it with plain seltzer is the most basic way to get the full shrub effect.
Other ideas, both boozy and virtuous:
- sparkling wine—Prosecco runs on the sweeter side, so it’s a great choice and affordable
- Lillet Blanc, a sweet fortified wine
- fruit beer, like a classic Belgian lambic or one of the summer peach beers you’ll be seeing on shelves this time of year
- flavored seltzer, like La Croix’s pina fraise flavor or Polar Seltzer’s new raspberry rosé flavor
- ginger beer for a switchel-inspired kick (I like Maine Root’s version)
- plain old homemade iced tea! or mint tea!
Try about 2 fluid ounces shrub (that’s 1/4 cup in volumetric measurement) with 6 fluid ounces (3/4 cup) other liquid as a starting point, and adjust to your taste from there.
Quick(ish) Strawberry Shrub
Prep time:15 minutes
Total time:2 days of soaking time
Makes a little more than 3 cups
- 2 pounds strawberries, hulled and quartered
- 2 cups Champagne vinegar
- 1 cup (7 ounces; 200 grams) granulated sugar
- 4 bay leaves
Stir all the ingredients together in a nonreactive bowl or pot—i.e. stainless steel, glass, or ceramic. Don’t use aluminum, since the vinegar will react to it, and don’t use plastic unless you want it to smell like your shrub forevermore.
Cover with a tight-fitting lid. This is why I use my All-Clad 3-quart stainless stockpot for the job, since it’s got a great lid and I know no bugs will penetrate the barrier. But if you feel confident that a piece of plastic wrap will be sufficient on a Pyrex bowl, more power to you.
Let the shrub sit for at least 24 hours and up to 48 hours, gently stirring it periodically. The sugar will dissolve fairly quickly in the process, and the strawberry pieces will slowly become softer and more translucent as they macerate in the liquid.
Place a fine-mesh strainer over a large bowl and pour in all the strawberries and liquid. Let everything drain on its own; pressing the strawberries through the strainer might force bits of strawberry pulp and seeds into your shrub, which is not as visually appealing.
Store the shrub in the refrigerator in a sealed jar for up to 1 month.