August 21, 2013

Soup to Nuts: The science of shrubbery

Local mixmasters are putting some exotic new spins on a very old drink.

By Meredith Goad
Staff Writer

(Continued from page 1)

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Guy Streitburger's finished strawberry-rhubarb shrub with Eight Bells rum.

John Ewing/Staff Photographer

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At Gingko Blue in Portland, bar manager Guy Streitburger makes his strawberry-rhubarb shrub with Eight Bells rum.

John Ewing/Staff Photographer

Additional Photos Below


From Guy Streitburger, bar manager, Gingko Blue:


1-1/2 cups ripe strawberries, cleaned, hulled and sliced

1 cup rhubarb, cleaned and sliced thin

20 to 30 black peppercorns, coarsely crushed

1 cup balsamic vinegar

1/2 cup cider vinegar (preferably Bragg's organic apple cider vinegar)

1-1/2 cups sugar

Combine strawberries, rhubarb, peppercorns and sugar in a jar. Stir ingredients to make sure it is evenly coated with sugar. Cover and let sit at room temp for 24 hours. Next, add both vinegars and stir well. Refrigerate for 10 to 14 days. Try to stir the mixture every other day. Finally, strain the fruit from the liquid. Transfer the syrup to a clean jar and store in the refrigerator.


1-1/2 ounces Eight Bells rum

3/4 ounce to 1 ounce (depending on your taste) strawberry rhubarb shrub

4 drops habanero tincture (see note)

Soda water


Combine Eight Bells Rum, shrub and habanero tincture in a rocks glass. Finish with soda. Garnish with slice of fresh strawberry.

Note: To make the habanero tincture, infuse vodka with habanero peppers.

From Trey Hughes, who will be on staff at the Portland Hunt and Alpine Club when it opens:


1-1/2 ounces London dry gin

3/4 ounce Dolin Blanc Vermouth

1/2 ounce cucumber shrub (see note)

1/4 ounce lemon juice

Garnish: Orange twist

Garnish: Angostura around the inner rim of the glass (a dropper helps a lot here)

Stir with ice, strain into cocktail glass.


For the shrub, mix 2 parts cucumber juice to 1 part sugar. Stir to dissolve. Take that syrup and mix 2 parts of it with 1 part champagne vinegar.

The basic shrub syrup will keep in the refrigerator for weeks.

In my research back then, I found that the word "shrub" is an Arabic word that means "drink" and is related to "sharba," the word for syrup. In Colonial America, making shrubs was the way to preserve fruit before it went bad.

Extra fruit was stored with sugar, "and the addition of vinegar was to stop fermentation," said Benjamin Lord, one of the proprietors of The Black Birch in Kittery, where shrubs have been a regular on the menu this summer. (The current one is their own version of a raspberry shrub.)

"A lot of early shrubs were low alcohol anyway because you were starting to get fermentation from airborne yeast, and so you'd have a little bit of natural effervescence and you would use the vinegar to kill off the yeast."

In the 1800s, shrubs were often used as a mixer for rum or brandy. They died off for a variety of reasons, including the industrialization of the food system and the rise of spirits.

"You don't see (shrubs) often pre-Prohibition, and you don't see them in the Civil War era," Volk said. "They're much more late 1700s and early 1800s, and you don't see them late 1800s at all, really. They kind of pop up here and there, but it certainly was very popular in Colonial times, and they're starting to make a comeback."


The shrub is one of only three beverages placed on Slow Food USA's Ark of Taste, a catalog of more than 200 foods that are in danger of extinction.(The other two are American rye whiskey and greenthread tea, a traditional tea brewed by the Navajo, Hopi and Pueblo Indians.)

A basic shrub calls for equal parts fruit, sugar and vinegar. Where you go with it from there, however, is a matter of taste.

Margaret Chase Smith's raspberry shrub recipe calls for infusing the vinegar with the fruit before adding the sugar. Others macerate the fruit in the sugar first -- the sugar pulls all the moisture out of the fruit -- then add the vinegar. Some recipes call for simmering the syrup, others do not.

And there are other choices to be made: What kind of vinegar should you use? What kind of alcohol works best with the flavors of the fruit you've chosen? What other flavors do you want to add to the mix?

For his strawberry-rhubarb shrub, Streitburger made a "slow refrigeration shrub." He let the sugar and fruit macerate for 24 hours at room temperature, along with some peppercorns for added bite. Then he added two kinds of vinegar, cider and balsamic, "and just let that sit in the fridge so all the flavors can come together slowly, stirring every day."

To make the cocktail he calls the Burning Bush, Streitburger mixes the shrub with Eight Bells rum, a local rum from New England Distilling, a few drops of habanero tincture, soda water and ice. (To make the habanero tincture, simply drop some habanero peppers into vodka and let it infuse for a few days or weeks, depending on how hot you want it.)

Lord said he has experimented with using local honey and other sources of sugar instead of simple cane sugar. He lets the fruit sit in the vinegar for a couple of days, then cuts it with water and honey to taste.

Lord, like most creators of craft cocktails, prefers using apple cider and Champagne vinegars. White vinegar is just too sharp and acidic.

"Vinegar is something that, when done well, is a very interesting, fantastic flavor," he said. "You don't really want it to be overpowering. You don't want it to be the dominant thing in that beverage, but you want it to be in the background."

(Continued on page 3)

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Additional Photos

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The raspberry shrub handed down by the grandmother of legendary Maine politician Margart Chase Smith.

Press Herald file

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A Bing cherry shrub cocktail created by Luke O'Neill, a bartender at Grace in Portland.

Gabe Souza/Staff Photographer

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Luke O'Neill, bartender at Grace Restaurant, makes a Champagne shrub cocktail that contains Champagne grapes, Champagne vinegar, Dolin Blanc vermouth, Grey Goose vodka, and a Cabernet Sekt (an Austrian sparkling wine) float.

Gabe Souza/Staff Photographer

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Luke O'Neill's finished Champagne shrub cocktail.

Gabe Souza/Staff Photographer


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