The shrub (a fruit-flavoured vinegar for use in a cocktail, typically involving rum and soda water) is a portal to another time, another place, the 19th-century American South, to be exact, front porches, white suits, and all that. It is also, with its perfect combination of lightness (the water), strength (booze) and tart (vinegar), a beautiful summertime drink. Looking it up, one finds that it’s an anachronism, hardly drunk by anyone, and not very well known even among the drinks cognoscenti, which is a pity. But clearly it’s also a drink on the rebound, or at least a drink with nowhere to go but up. And so it goes.
Paradox rules in life, and summer heat adds a layer of delirium over top of even the most counterintuitive drinking decisions. You might reach for a drink that seems like a good idea in that moment, but what you need is to clear the cobwebs. A dose of sour, administered by a fruit-flavoured vinegar, is just the corrective to get your head right in the midst of the haze of mid-July.
Following the recipe in How’s Your Drink?, the great book by Eric Felten, we begin by making the shrub itself, which is a fruit-flavoured vinegar concoction. Readymade shrubs are apparently available in many flavours and can easily be had, thanks to the Internet and mail order service. But why not make one, in honour of those who enjoyed the innocent pleasures of this drink in pre-industrial times.
-Stir together 1 cup of sugar with 1 cup of water in a saucepan over brisk heat until the sugar is dissolved.
-Add 2-3 pounds of raspberries (or any kind of fruit, actually), reduce heat, stir occasionally over 10 minutes.
-Add 2 cups white vinegar and raise heat again. Boil for two minutes. Remove from heat, cool, strain and bottle.
The bottle of shrub can go in the refrigerator for summer-long use, but the whole point of the vinegar is to preserve a flavour without refrigeration. Like confit de canard, this is a recipe that, strictly speaking, is obsolete, but it’s a pleasure all the same to go through the ritual of keeping jars of duck parts suspended in fat in the larder.
Once you’ve got your bottle of shrub, you’ve got the basis for a raspberry rum shrub “cocktail” (though this drink predates the formal beginning of what we now know as “cocktails”, and therefore deserve a different style of drinking as those more metropolitan drinks). The fruit-flavoured shrub feels essentially rural, a pastime of innocent summer.
The drink itself calls for ice in a glass, topped with 1 oz. of shrub vinegar, 2 oz. of rum, 4 oz. of either ginger ale or soda water (I find that soda water works better at showcasing the shrub), a brief and not-too-vigourous stir, and perhaps a garnishment of one or two leftover raspberries. Delish. Long live the shrub.