This Early American-style Lemon Ginger Shrub is like a Colonial soft drink. Sweetened by sugar and biting with vinegar, this preserve makes for a refreshing (albeit unusual) drink when mixed with club soda or into cocktails.
If you are following along with my adventures on this blog, you know I’m taking part in the Food In Jars Mastery Challenge this year. This month’s preserving challenge is jellies and shrubs. Jellies are pretty straightforward – these preserves are typically made from fruit or fruit juice (and sometimes wine) and have a smooth, translucent consistency. Some might have a few flecks of something, but they are very spreadable.
I have a lot of jams and jellies in stock right now though, so I decided to go the other way and make a shrub.
What is a shrub, you ask? No, it’s not a type of topiary.
A shrub (also called “drinking vinegar”) is a syrup typically made from equal parts sugar, vinegar, and fruit, sometimes with other additions depending on your recipe. These early non-alcoholic “soft drinks” became popular in the American Colonial era, and are typically drunk mixed with clear or sparkling water. The refreshing concoction can also be mixed with liquor to make some truly interesting cocktails. A shrub technically is a preserve, as it draws the flavors out of the fruit, thereby allowing them to keep longer than they would otherwise.
I’ve never made a shrub, but the possibilities were wide open. It being winter, I thought I’d stick to citrus to stay seasonal. I happened to have over a pound of lemons in my fridge from a recipe plan that never came to fruition. Lemon Ginger Shrub it is – but what else did I need?
Making a Shrub
There are recipes that can be canned and made shelf-stable, but for my adventure into making one of these drinks for the first time, I turned to an incredible book: Colonial Spirits: A Toast to Our Drunken History by Steven Grasse (I wrote a short review of this book here). Once made, this recipe lasts 2-3 weeks in the fridge. Not a very long shelf-life, but on par with a simple syrup – good enough for me.
The recipe for a fruit shrub in the book was more of a template than anything else. Pick a fruit, pick a type of sugar, and pick a type of vinegar. Let the fruit macerate in the sugar a few days in the fridge. Drain and add the vinegar and some salt. Done.
After some research, I still wasn’t sure what type of sugar would be best with the lemon – brown sugar or white? I decided to experiment. I took 2 cups of chopped lemons and mixed them with two cups of brown sugar, and two cups of chopped lemons and mixed them with two cups of white sugar.
After a day and half, I removed the chunks of lemon from the mixtures in a (rather messy) two-part procedure. First, I poured the syrup through a metal sieve, carefully reserving the leftover sugar slush at the bottom of the containers as instructed in Colonial Spirits. To extract as much juice as possible, I then transferred the chunks of sugar-encrusted lemon to a square of cheese cloth draped over a two-cup measuring cup. Once I had all the lemon chunks together, I gathered them up in the cheese cloth and just squeezed like crazy to get the juice out. I recommend squishing out every last bit until you can’t take it anymore, or your cheesecloth breaks – whichever comes first. Then add that juice back to the rest of your syrup and the reserved sugar slush.
If you really want it clarified, you could pass it all through a sieve or cheesecloth a third time, but I didn’t bother with that – mine was smooth enough as is. I then added a mix of white and apple cider vinegars into each syrup. And that’s it. That’s a shrub. Probably the easiest preserve I’ve ever made!
The Verdict: Brown Sugar Shrub vs. White Sugar Shrub
So, which one was better? At the start, I thought I’d prefer the caramel notes of the Brown Sugar Lemon Ginger Shrub the most. I was very surprised to find that it was both far too sweet, and far too vinegary for my tastes (and I LOVE vinegar). I could barely even taste the lemon juice. On the other hand, the White Sugar Lemon Ginger Shrub tasted more refined and balanced.
But now the important part – what paired best with liquor? To this there was no challenge. I was easily able to pair the White Sugar version with a few different liquors for positive results, while the Brown Sugar version overpowered other flavors when using just a simple ratio of 2 parts shrub to 1 part liquor. It may be that the Brown Sugar Shrub would work well in a more complicated cocktail, if one was to use a little of it like a syrup, and combine other components as the frontrunners. I still plan on doing some more experiments, but there is no doubt in my mind that the recipe I want to share with you is a White Sugar Lemon-Ginger Shrub.
Plus, I have two delicious cocktails you can make with it! That’s the whole reason we’re making shrubs, right? (Or is that just me?)
Lemon Ginger Shrub Cocktails
The Lemon Ginger Shrub would be fine alone mixed with some sparking water and ice, sipped as you enjoy a relaxing day on the patio (Or stoop. Or staring at your computer screen). As my Colonial forefathers felt before me though, everything is better with booze.
I pulled together two simple cocktails – The Lemon Ginger Shrub Sour and the Lemon Ginger Shrub Gimlet. The vinegar makes both very unique from their source cocktails, but if you like the flavor profiles of bourbon in the first case or gin the second, it’s a nice and simple way to use this new preserve you’ve made. Check out the recipes below.
All in all, I have to say I’m not sure I’ll make a shrub again. While I love vinegar myself, not many others in my day-to-day life do. Going through two cups of the White Sugar Lemon Ginger Shrub was a task (made easier when I accidentally spilled about half a cup with a clumsy move). While I enjoyed a glass for myself, more than that in a sitting was a bit too acidic for me. It’s definitely forward with vinegar, so keep that in mind if you choose to make a Lemon Ginger Shrub for yourself. Perhaps I will give a shrub another try when berry season comes around, because I bet a mixed berry shrub would be fantastic!
White Sugar Lemon Ginger Shrub
Adapted from Colonial Spirits: A Toast to Our Drunken History
- 2 cups organic lemon, scrubbed clean and chopped
- 2 cups white sugar
- 2 inches fresh ginger, grated
- 1-2 cups vinegar (half apple cider and half white vinegar)
- Fine metal sieve
Mix equal parts chopped lemons with sugar in an appropriately-sized bowl or mason jar. Mix in the ginger. Cover (with lid or saran wrap) and refrigerate for 24-48 hours. Once it's macerated, the juice of the fruit and the sugar will form a syrup.
Prepare two vessels – one bowl (ideally a large 6-8 cup measuring cup) with a fine metal sieve, and the other (ideally a 2-cup measuring cup) draped with a 5-inch by 5-inch double-layered piece of cheesecloth.
This is the messy part: Working in batches, strain the syrup through the fine metal sieve and into the bowl, adding any undissolved sugar back into the mix. As you work, transfer the sugar-coated lemon pieces to the center of the prepared cheesecloth. Once all the syrup is transferred, gather the lemon pieces up in the cheesecloth, making it into a pouch. Squeeze the pouch thoroughly, getting out as much juice as possible from the fruit into the small bowl. Discard the pouch and fruit, and combine the small bowl of juice with the larger bowl of syrup. I had about 2 cups of syrup, but yours may differ.
Measure out an equal amount of vinegar (half apple cider and half white vinegar) to the amount of syrup you have, and combine in an airtight bottle or jar. Stir in 4 pinches of salt per total cup of the final mixture. The shrub will keep in the fridge for 2-3 weeks.
Lemon Ginger Shrub Sour
- 2 oz Lemon Ginger Shrub
- 1 oz bourbon
- 2 oz club soda
- Dash Angostura bitters
- Maraschino cherry, to garnish
Combine the shrub, bourbon, and two cubes of ice in a cocktail shaker, and shake until frosty. Pour into a rocks or coupe glass, add the bitters, and top with club coda. Serve with a cherry.
Lemon Ginger Shrub Gimlet
- 2 oz Lemon Ginger Shrub
- 1 oz gin
- 2 oz club soda
- Twist of lemon peel, to garnish
Combine the shrub, gin, and two cubes of ice in a cocktail shaker, and shake until frosty. Pour into a rocks or coupe glass and top with club coda. Garnish with a twist of lemon peel.