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Shrubs: Cocktails, mocktails and the knights who say “Ni”


Much to the ire of bartenders across the island, mocktails have become more popular than ever. While I understand the importance of having non-alcoholic options for diners, the main issue is that not a lot of restaurants have a set mocktail list.

This leaves bartenders scrambling to use whatever juices and syrups they might have in their ice well and then desperately trying to remember what the proportions were if the guest orders another. The simple solution to this conundrum is the humble shrub.      

Now, when I say shrub I don’t want to conjure the image of “Monty Python and the Holy Grail” and the knights who say “Ni!” I am not talking about shrubbery.

A shrub in the beverage world is a fruit and vinegar-based concoction that was popular in colonial America. The drink dates back even further to 17th century England, although that iteration was spiked with brandy or rum in order to give it a longer shelf life.

The basic breakdown of a shrub is fruit, sugar and vinegar. For readers who fancy themselves at-home bartenders or who like to host gatherings, this useful tool can elevate a simple cocktail recipe or, with a little seltzer water, can make a quick and easy mocktail for your guests who are abstaining from alcohol.

This recipe is a variation from a place I worked at in Cambridge. It takes ginger, sugar hot peppers and apple-cider vinegar and creates a sweet, tangy and herbaceous shrub that only takes a day of prep.

Ginger Shrub

1 quart chopped ginger

1 quart white sugar

1 quart hot water

2 Fresno peppers

1 cup apple cider vinegar

Macerate ginger, peppers and sugar together overnight. Add hot water and stir until sugar has completely dissolved. Add apple-cider vinegar and blend. Strain with a mesh sieve, divide into quart containers and store in the refrigerator.

At home I like to use this shrub in combination with bourbon, fresh lemon juice and a dash of angostura bitters to make a cocktail that is a play on a modern classic called a Gold Rush. During the California gold rush, a group of Nantucketers set out on the Henry Aster in search of fortune out west. So, it only seems fitting to name this drink after the ship that took them there.

The Henry Astor

2 oz. bourbon

3/4 oz. fresh lemon juice

3/4 oz. ginger shrub

Dash angostura bitters

Combine ingredients in a shaker with ice. Shake and strain over new ice, preferably one large rock. Garnish with a lemon twist.

Correspondence of The Inquirer

San Francisco, Sept. 25, 1849

Dear Sir: I have not much to say to you this month. California jogs on about as when I wrote to you last – some working fortunes, and others not so well off as when they landed – some going home with money enough, and others working their way as best they can, cursing the country because they could not get a heap of gold without working for it; and so it jogs along.

I have had no cause as yet to alter my mind about this country. There is gold enough here, and those who go out to the mines determined to get gold, and keep still and work, are sure to get it.