How to Make Shrubs (aka Drinking Vinegars) Without a Recipe (2024)

Here at Food52, we love recipes—but do we always use them? Of course not. Because once you realize you don't always need a recipe, you'll make your favorite dishes a lot more often. Today: We're making a zingy, fruity drinking vinegar that's all a matter of ratio. (And yes, it makes for great co*cktails, too.)

How to Make Shrubs (aka Drinking Vinegars) Without a Recipe (1)

If you've never had a shrub before, it's just about the most refreshing thing you can think to drink—especially in the summer. It starts with a syrup that’s a combination of vinegar, fruit, and sugar. The fruit tastes like its truest self and the vinegar cuts right through it. Add it to a glass, then bubbles to make it bright. The alcohol is optional, but awfully good.

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You can make a shrub two ways: the hot way (fresh fruit simmered in simple syrup) and the cold way (fresh fruit tossed with sugar and left to sit for a few days). Shrub purists may tell you that a shrub made the hot way is not a true shrub—and maybe they're right. But true shrub or not, it's delicious and a fast way to get a fruity, vinegary syrup that works just as well in a drink as a more authentic, cold process shrub. If you're short on time, the hot way is a good approach to take; if you can be a little more leisurely, try the cold process—I do prefer the flavor of a cold process shrub, which is a little less jammy and more true to the fruit in flavor.

Here's how you do it:

1. Gather ingredients.

Shrubs are a matter of ratio: The sweet spot (the sweet-tart spot, that is) is a 1:1:1 ratio of fruit, sugar, and vinegar. A good place to start for cold process shrub is 1 pound chopped fruit, 2 cups sugar, and 2 cups vinegar; for the heated process, go for 1 pound fruit, 1 cup sugar, 1 cup water, and 1 cup vinegar. Each method should yield about 3 cups of shrub syrup, which will keep in the fridge.

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The fruit and flavorings

You can make shrubs at any time of year with nearly any kind of fruit—from summer berries and peaches (both of which I have made with great success) to apples, grapefruits, and pomegranates in the winter. I would not recommend the heated process with watermelon, however, which I tried (and which, I'm afraid to say, made my apartment smell wholly of stomach acid. Gross). A good rule of thumb: The heated process will work well for anything you would make jam out of. For watery melons, stick to the cold process.

More:There are ways to get a watermelon shrub! Try Louisa Shafia's Genius method.

If you want to make a citrus shrub, zest the (preferably organic) citrus peel off first, and use your fingers to rub the zest into the sugar until it's really fragrant—this way, you don't lose any of those good oils. Then just chop up the fruit itself, toss it with the zesty sugar, and let it sit as you would any other shrub.

That said, it doesn't just have to be a fruit shrub! Add grated fresh ginger, fresh herbs (hi rosemary, hello thyme), or spices (like whole peppercorns, cardamom pods, or bay leaves) to either the simple syrup (hot process) or the sugar-fruit mixture (cold process).

The vinegar

Most vinegars will work in shrubs, but think about how your fruit will pair with the flavor of the vinegar you select. I would steer clear of plain white vinegar, which is too intensely sharp. Apple cider vinegar is the one I use most, but white or red wine vinegar, rice vinegar, Champagne vinegar, or coconut vinegar also work very well. Balsamic adds an amazing depth to berry shrubs in particular, but you only need a splash. The rest of the vinegar can be cider or wine vinegar.

The sugar

You can use white or brown sugar; white sugar will really let the fruit flavor shine, while the brown sugar will add another element of flavor. While I haven’t tried this myself yet, you could also experiment with honey, maple syrup, and agave. (Molasses would probably be too overpowering.)

Some combinations that sound particularly appealing:

  • strawberries + white sugar + red wine vinegar and a splash of balsamic vinegar
  • blueberries + thinly sliced ginger + cider vinegar
  • nectarine + peppercorn + brown sugar + white wine vinegar
  • peach + cardamom pods + honey + cider vinegar
  • pomegranate + peppercorn + white sugar + red wine vinegar
  • pear + star anise + brown sugar + white wine vinegar
  • red plum + cardamom + brown sugar + white wine vinegar (which is what I made here)

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2. Combine the sugar and the fruit, and then add vinegar.

For a cold process shrub, assemble your fruit (sliced or mashed gently) in a bowl, and toss it with sugar.

Let this mixture sit, covered securely with a dishtowel, on your kitchen counter for about 2 days. Stir once a day. It should start to look very juicy. After 2 days, strain the mixture into a measuring cup, discard the fruit, then combine the syrup with approximately an equal amount of vinegar (again, your choice, but cider vinegar is a good place to start)—but do this slowly, tasting as you go so that you get a shrub that is just sharp enough for you—especially with a zingier fruit like raspberries or citrus. That's it! Pour it into a jar and stick it in the fridge.

More:Shrubs could be your signature co*cktail. Here'show to find yours!

For a hot process shrub, make a simple syrup (equal parts sugar and water) in a medium saucepan over low heat, stirring until the sugar is completely dissolved. Add your sliced fruit and bring the syrup-fruit mixture to a low simmer. Let it bubble away until the syrup has become the color of the fruit and the fruit looks tired. Stir in the vinegar and bring the mixture just to a simmer; strain out and discard the fruit (or serve it over vanilla ice cream), and pour the shrub into a jar. Keep it in the fridge.

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3. Drink up!

Fill a tall glass with ice, pour in a splash of shrub, and top it off with seltzer water, stirring a bit to incorporate the shrub. Or add a shot of booze: I like gin and found it to be delicious with a strawberry-balsamic shrub, but whiskey or vodka would also be delicious. Or do away with the seltzer water altogether and substitute Champagne or another sparkling wine instead.

No matter which process you use, a shrub will keep for a long time in your refrigerator—I would count on a couple of months at least (though I've not yet had one stick around morethan a month, so I couldn't say for sure). The shrub should not ferment, bubble, or become slimy. If it does, scold it, throw it away, and start anew.

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Photos by Alpha Smoot

Looking for even more shrub inspiration? We've got you. Here are some A+ shrub recipes by fellow Food52ers:

Tomato Shrubby FiveandSpice. This shrub starts with a whole pound of tomatoes, then gets seasoned with a slew of spices: coriander seeds, cumin seeds, cinnamon stick, red pepper flakes... What's more is, at the end, you shake in some Worcestershire and hot sauce for a savory boost (or not, it's your shrub). Serve this with everything from plain seltzer to beer. FiveandSpice even puts it toward salad dressings.

Cranberry-Apple Shrubby adashofbitters. The coziest shrub in all the land. (Also: that color!) All you need for this recipe are apples, cranberries, cider vinegar, and turbinado sugar. Since it keeps for up to a year in the fridge, you could get ready for fall, ahem, right now.

by Louisa Shafia. A shrub by another name. This recipe was dubbed Genius in 2013 and it's been making our summers more refreshing ever since. The combo of watermelon, honey, and mint is particularly welcoming to a pour of vodka, if that's your thing.

This article was originally published in August 2015. We're refreshed it for another hot, sweaty summer. Have you ever made a shrub before? Tell us which kind in the comments below!

How to Make Shrubs (aka Drinking Vinegars) Without a Recipe (2024)


What is the best vinegar for shrubs? ›

Apple cider vinegar is the one I use most, but white or red wine vinegar, rice vinegar, Champagne vinegar, or coconut vinegar also work very well. Balsamic adds an amazing depth to berry shrubs in particular, but you only need a splash.

How long do homemade vinegar shrubs last? ›

You should sterilize the glass containers by first washing them in hot water and soap, and then boiling for about 10 minutes and scalding the caps in boiling water. Filled and tightly sealed, your shrub should last about 6 months in the refrigerator.

What makes a drink a shrub? ›

What is a “shrub” for drinks? Shrubs, also known as drinking vinegars, are concentrated syrups used in beverages. They're most commonly made from vinegar, fruit, aromatics, and sugar. Many shrubs use apple cider vinegar as the base and then use fruit and herbs to create unique sweet and sour flavors.

Is drinking vinegar shrub good for you? ›

One of the most famous drinking shrubs is the apple cider vinegar. The principle behind these is similar to all shrubs, including the ones we make. There are many benefits to apple cider vinegar... It has been known to promote weight loss and stabilise levels of blood sugar.

What is the difference between shrubs and drinking vinegar? ›

Drinking vinegars, also called shrubs, are exactly what they sound like: vinegar-based concoctions you can, well, drink! The word “shrub” is derived from the Arabic word sharbah, which means “a drink.” They have a long history, dating back to the Babylonian, and were incredibly popular during colonial America.

What does vinegar do to bushes? ›

Spraying vinegar on leaves can cause leaf damage, yellowing, and wilting. It can also affect the soil pH, making it too acidic for some plants to grow properly.

Do vinegar shrubs need to be refrigerated? ›

DO I NEED TO REFRIGERATE MY SHRUBS? Because vinegar is a low pH, acidic preservative you do not need to refrigerate your shrubs. Some people may prefer to enjoy them cold, but they are shelf stable and will be fine in the pantry.

Are vinegar shrubs probiotic? ›

In basically every instance, historically, the vinegar being used was going to be raw, which also makes this a probiotic/fermented drink.

How long do drinking shrubs last? ›

How Long Does A Shrub Last In The Fridge? Filled and tightly sealed in a jar, shrubs last about 6 months in the refrigerator if used sparingly. With more frequent use, similar to other condiments that are kept refrigerated, shrubs last 6-8 weeks.

How do you make co*cktail shrubs? ›

It's typical for shrubs to use two cups of fruit with two cups each of vinegar and sugar (this ratio can be adjusted to taste). Add herbs and spices to taste; one tablespoon is a good place to start with most ingredients. This will yield a nice amount of shrub for experimentation and quite a few drinks.

How do you make the perfect co*cktail shrub? ›

There are two methods to make a co*cktail shrub: a hot process and a cold process. The hot process involves boiling your vinegar mixture together with sugar, fruit and other aromatics until they soften to release flavors. You then strain the mixture with cheesecloth.

What alcohol is in a shrub? ›

In terms of mixed drinks, shrub is the name of two different, but related, acidulated beverages. One type of shrub is a fruit liqueur that was popular in 17th and 18th century England, typically made with rum or brandy and mixed with sugar and the juice or rinds of citrus fruit.

What plants benefit from vinegar water? ›

Balancing pH: Vinegar has a low pH (around 2-3) which can help to balance the pH of soil that is too alkaline. This can be especially beneficial for plants that prefer slightly acidic soil, such as hydrangeas and gardenias.

What does Mother of vinegar do for your body? ›

The “mother” in apple-cider vinegar is a source of probiotics, which are beneficial bacteria that contribute to a healthy gut microbiome. Probiotics support digestion and may even enhance nutrient absorption, according to a review in Cureus in 2022. Note that pasteurized ACV doesn't contain live probiotics.

Which vinegar to use for plants? ›

Vinegar as an herbicide: White vinegar which is about 5% acetic acid and does a nice job of burning the tops of plants, but not their roots – so a larger weed will live right through a spray even though it will look bad right after the spray. You can buy 20% acetic acid.

Can I spray vinegar on my shrubs? ›

Vinegar is used as a contact herbicide. It scorches the foliage on whatever it hits. It will not kill shrubs, but can burn any leaves it is sprayed on.

What kind of vinegar do you spray on plants? ›

You have to be careful when spraying it around certain plants as it may be harmful to some, but when used on those pesky hard-to-kill weeds, they will disappear in two to three days' time. Combine a gallon of white vinegar, one cup of salt, and a couple tablespoons of dish soap to get the job done.

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