Thursday, June 23, 2011

Cocktail Wednesdays: Raspberry Shrub

Raspberry Shrub

Things have been a bit warmer again this week, so I went back to making cooler, more summery drinks. Not only am I concentrating on summery, icy drinks at the moment, but I am also planning to try some of the basic categories. Recently, a post on 12 Bottle Bar about shrubs piqued my interest, and some leftover raspberries from the Father's Day cookout sealed the deal: this week's drink would be the Raspberry Shrub.

Infusing Raspberry Simple Syrup

First, I made raspberry infused simple syrup, which was as easy as taking a cup of washed raspberries, covering them in simple syrup and leaving them to sit for a few hours. You can find directions for making all kind of infusions here. As you can see from the photo, I had just mixed up the batch of 1:1 simple syrup, because we had run out earlier. The raspberry simple syrup is an especially nice one to try first, because you get a beautiful color without much effort.

Then, I was ready to mix up my shrubs. The shrub is a traditional drink that has its roots all the way back in the colonial period, and it is part of the Slow Food movement’s US Ark of Taste, a list of foods and flavors in danger of extinction. It is based on a balance of fruit, sweet, and tart flavors. In many mixed drinks, that tartness -- the acidic component -- is achieved through the use of citrus. But are there other ways to make a good trink with a nice tart component? What would they have used in parts of the world where it isn't so easy to grow citrus fruits? Certainly, the English and the early colonists weren't using lemons. They were making shrubs. In fact, in the 1737 records for the House of Commons indicate that they were charging duties for "Rum, Brandy, or other distill’d Liquor or Shrub". Srubs were so important at the time that they were mentioned by name even though whiskey was not! See here for more information on the history of the shrub. What is the surprising key component of the shrub? Vinegar.

Raspberry Shrub

Though unable to find white wine vinegar or champagne vinegar, which seemed most appropriate, I did find a white balsamic vinegar, which I thought would pair well with the raspberry. Admittedly, I mixed the first drink with some trepidation. I started by mixing the vinegar and syrup in the prescribed proportion, then adding the minimum of the shrub mix to the final drink. Once I tried it, I immediately added more, and began mixing it up for everyone else.

Simple Raspberry Shrub Mix Recipe:
2 parts Raspberry Simple Syrup
1 part White Balsamic Vinegar

Stir to combine

The Raspberry Shrub:
1.5 oz Raspberry Shrub Mix
2 oz Rum
4 oz Club Soda

Add all ingredients to a glass, over ice
Stir gently to combine

Other fruits can be used for flavoring, other types of vinegar, and other spirits can all be used to make drinks that fall into the shrub category. I chose rum because it seems to have been the most common choice for our colonial forefathers' shrubs.

The verdict: Somewhat surprisingly, I really liked this drink. Our guests liked it as well. We agreed that it was the sort of drink that could get dangerous because it didn't taste alcoholic. Scott felt that it was too fruity for him. He said it was good, but that it did not make it into his top three summer mixed drinks. He thought it was the sort of thing he might order on a beach, if he was in the mood for a fruity drink. Last night, I don't think he even realized there was vinegar in it. I thought that the balsamic imparted an interesting balance of flavors, and I was glad I had chosen it. I don't always go for a fruity drink, either, but if I were in the mood for one, this would definitely be high on my list. In fact, it's higher on my list in general than it is on Scott's.

Also, thanks to the cute glasses my parents sent, it was easy to keep everyone's drink from getting mixed up. Unfortunately, the drink didn't photograph as nicely, so I don't know how often I will use them.

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