Shrubs: The New Hip Sip

At the newly-opened Jockey Hollow Bar & Kitchen in Morristown, I was handed a cocktail called a Cannon Ball Shrub, named for the restaurant's spirited owner, Chris Cannon. Made with gin, the drink had pungency, fruity sweetness and a tingle from a splash of sparkling wine.

The Cannon Ball Shrub at Jockey Hollow
The Cannon Ball Shrub at Jockey Hollow Kitchen & Bar in Morristown.

Shrub cocktails are much older than the American Revolution, but have been enjoying a recent resurgence, appearing on cocktail menus across the state, including Union Republic in Jersey City, De Novo in Montclair and Grissini in Englewood Cliffs.

As early as the 15th century, medicinals were mixed with flavored vinegars and sugar to make them more palatable. The vinegared syrup itself became known as a shrub. According to the Collins English Dictionary, the word "shrub" is derived from the Arabic word sharāb, meaning "to drink."

By the 17th and 18th centuries, sweet and sour shrubs, combined with rum or other liquors, were common libations in English pubs. They crossed the pond with the colonists.

Refrigeration eventually obviated the need to preserve fruit flavors with vinegar. Shrub cocktails faded until the recent cocktail renaissance sent bartenders combing the past for inspiration.

Now bottled shrub vinegared syrups come in flavors like peach, honey, grapefruit, strawberry and ginger. But Chris James, head bartender at Jockey Hollow, prefers to make his own.

His vinegar of choice is apple cider. “There are different methods of infusing the flavor,” he says. “Some people add fruit and sugar and let it sit for days, occasionally shaking the mixture.”

He expedites matters by boiling vinegar with sugar, lemon zest, vanilla beans and a seasonal fruit, such as the fresh cranberries he is using now. “I boil it until the berries pop, then cool it down and strain it.” He    refrigerates the syrup, “but it pretty much lasts forever,” he says.

The proportions of sugar and acidity can be tinkered with. Most recipes start with a 50/50 mix, but when James wants a little less tang, he cuts the vinegar with water. The flavor also depends on the inherent sweetness in the fruit.

At Jersey City’s hip new Union Republic café, the house shrub is a whiskey drink made with lavender, cranberry, sugar and white balsamic vinegar. Each glass is garnished with a savory ‘fines herbes caviar.’

De Novo calls its shrub D’ Devil. The syrup is made from jalapeños, cilantro, sugar, salt and apple cider vinegar. Added to gin and Triple Sec, the cocktail comes out green.

Grissini’s shrub is made by boiling balsamic vinegar down to a syrup. "Balsamic makes expected appearances on our Italian menu," says maire d’ Enzo Lentini, "but it’s a surprise element in our Dirty Deed Martini. The vinegar gives the cocktail a hint of sweetness and its great color."

Shrub syrups can be made with so many different fruits and seasonal ingredients that the only limit is the bartender’s imagination. And they can be enjoyed on their own.

“Just add soda,” says Jockey Hollow’s Chris James, "and you have a great non-alcoholic drink."


CANNON BALL SHRUB from Jockey Hollow Bar & Kitchen in Morristown

To make the spiced cranberry shrub…

4 cups white sugar
3 cups apple cider vinegar
1 cup water
3 cups fresh cranberries
1 vanilla bean, split and scraped
2 cinnamon sticks, broken
10 dried allspice berries
4 thumbnails, fresh ginger
zest and juice of one orange

Bring all to a boil and simmer over medium heat for 10 minuntes or until cranberries start to pop. Let cool and strain before use.

To make the cocktail…:

1 ounce Botanist Gin
1 ounce cranberry shrub
1 1/4 teaspoons lime juice
1 dash Angostura bitters
1 1/2 ounces brut champagne

Shake and double strain. Top with champagne and garnish with an orange twist.

DIRTY DEED MARTINI from Grissini Restaurant in Englewood Cliffs

To make the shrub syrup…

Boil a cup or so of balsamic vinegar down to a syrup

To make the cocktail…

3 slices fresh cucumber
9 shavings fresh ginger
4 leaves fresh mint
6 drops balsamic reduction
3 oz. Hendricks Gin
Splash of sour mix
Mint leaf

Muddle the cucumber, ginger and mint in a cocktail shaker. Add the balsamic reduction. Add ice, gin and sour mix and shake 32 times. Pour into a martini glass and garnish with mint.

D’DEVIL from De Novo in Montclair

To make the shrub syrup…

1 lb jalapenos (washed, stems removed, and chopped)
2 bunches cilantro (washed and chopped)
4 cups sugar
1/2 cup salt
6 cups apple cider vinegar

Toss all ingredients except the vinegar in a large bowl. Let sit two to three days in the refrigerator until the juices from the mixture cover the solids. Strain out solids. Add apple cider vinegar to the jalapeno cilantro juice and let cure for another two days.

To make the cocktail, combine…

1 1/2 oz Greenall’s Gin
1 oz Triple Sec
1 oz Cilantro Jalapeno Shrub

UNION REPUBLIC SHRUB from Union Republic in Jersey City

To make the shrub…

Combine equal parts fresh cranberries, sugar and white balsamic vinegar. Let marinate 48 hours, then strain.

To make the lavender syrup…

2 ounces dried lavender
2 cups water
2 cups sugar

Bring to a boil. Cool and strain.

To make the cocktail, combine…

2 oz Bulleit Rye Whiskey
1 ½ teaspoons lavender syrup
2 tablespoons cranberry shrub
4 drops bitters

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