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 2)

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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 vinegar, Lord said, makes shrub cocktails very food-friendly. They pair with a wide variety of foods, cutting through fatty or buttery dishes.

In the fall, he envisions pairing duck with a shrub cocktail made from local cherries. Reeling ideas off the top of his head, he also thought of an apple-and-fennel shrub that would pair well with pork or a Thanksgiving turkey. He would slice the apples and macerate them in sugar and a bit of salt, he said, then add apple cider vinegar and raisins as another source of sugar and flavor.


At Grace in Portland, bartender Luke O'Neill has been experimenting a lot with shrub cocktails. One of his latest was an amazingly flavorful Bing cherry cocktail that was bright, slightly tart and a bit smoky, with just enough sweetness from the cherries to counter the raspberry vinegar he used in the concoction.

The shrub recipe calls for equal parts fresh pitted Bing cherries, cane sugar and raspberry vinegar.

O'Neill began by pitting the cherries and mashing them a bit with his hands along the way. Then he added an equal part of sugar and let that sit for just under a week. Every couple of days he mixed it a bit more by hand.

Then he strained the liquid from the cherries, added raspberry vinegar and let it sit for another week. (Again, stir this mixture occasionally.)

"Really the longer it sits, the better it gets, and it keeps for a very long time," O'Neill said. "Some of them can ferment a little bit on their own, which adds interesting layers and more complexities to the overall flavor. Over time, the sugar and the tartness of the vinegar kind of balance each other out."

To make the cocktail (which he also named Burning Bush), O'Neill added some dry vermouth infused with Bing cherries and Eight Bells rum.

"You need something that has a backbone because the shrub is so rich in its own right," he said, "and you have to add enough so that it comes through, but not enough that it's overwhelming."

The cocktail is then topped off with soda water and garnished with a Luxardo cherry in a highball glass.

O'Neill is now making a Champagne shrub with Champagne grapes and Champagne vinegar. To make a cocktail, he mixes that shrub with Dolin Blanc vermouth, Grey Goose vodka and a Cabernet Sekt (an Austrian sparkling wine) float. The drink, served in a martini glass, is garnished with frozen Champagne grapes.

On deck for fall is a currant, rosemary and sherry vinegar shrub.

Trey Hughes made a shrub cocktail for the Blue Spoon called the Hailing Signal that contained a sour orange shrub, Jamaican rum, soda and a bit of sherry.

When sage threatened to overtake his garden, Hughes experimented with a number of sage-based shrubs that also included ingredients such as cucumber, apple and celery.

Hughes, who will be on the staff at the Portland Hunt and Alpine Club when it opens, also makes a cucumber shrub he uses in a drink he calls the Hideaway. He uses a juicer to extract the cucumber juice for the shrub, but says a blender would work as well if you pour the mixture through a strainer.

Even if you're not into cocktails, shrubs make great non-alcoholic drinks. Just add a little shrub to some soda water and you're good to go.

"It's syrupy and strong on its own," Streitburger said. "That's why when it's with soda water, it is absolutely spectacular. You can use it on ice cream. It's very versatile."

Staff Writer Meredith Goad can be contacted at 791-6332 or at:

Twitter: MeredithGoad


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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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