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Vinegar-Based Shrubs : A Tasty and Healthy Beverage

Jun 25, 2016 ● By Heather Lalley

A shrub is a pungent vinegar drink infused with seasonal produce and lots of potential health benefits that can be consumed straight, in water, as part of an alcoholic cocktail or in dressings and sauces. “It’s very refreshing,” says Liat Shanan, a Chicago resident who has been making homemade shrubs for several years. “I find that it works better than anything else I can drink to quench my thirst.”

       Shrubs have captured modern taste buds in recent years in homes and bars around the country, but their “roots” go back hundreds of years as the perfect way to preserve produce in the time before refrigeration. Plus, they made palatable the poorly distilled spirits of Colonial times.

       “They helped with digestion, because of the vinegar,” says Jess Sanchez McClary, CEO of Detroit-based McClary Bros. Drinking Vinegars (, which are available in retail stores and bars around Chicago. McClary’s company, which is expanding into a larger production facility, uses only organic, unpasteurized apple cider vinegar and organic cane sugar as the basis for its shrubs.

       “It’s pricier,” says McClary. “But it has the culture that’s full of probiotics, and that’s really valuable. It creates a much deeper dimension of flavor. This was a way I could showcase locally grown produce here in Michigan.” She likes to use the freshest whole fruits, vegetables and herbs, with only as much sweetener as necessary. Her company’s shrub offerings include Lemon & Ginger, Beet & Carrot, Pineapple & Fennel Seed, Michigan Cranberry and others.

       “There’s been an increase in demand for this particular flavor profile and a big surge in fermented foods because of the health benefits. And there’s also the rise in craft cocktail culture. We’re riding dual waves here,” says McClary. “Consumers are getting tired of having products that are lab-made. This is very transparent. Everything is as straightforward as we can detail it.”

       Dan Rook, head bartender of South Water Kitchen (, a bistro in the Hotel Monaco Chicago, currently has three cocktails featuring shrubs on his drink menu. He even makes one using a charred Gai Lan broccoli in rice wine and champagne vinegars with orange peel, cayenne, ginger and fennel. That shrub is featured in a tequila-based cocktail. Other shrub cocktails have included beet shrub with gin and honeydew shrub with tequila. “It’s becoming less and less of a hard sell,” says Rook. “There’s always that consumer anxiety, but it’s just another way of preserving seasonal ingredients throughout the year.”

       Shrubs also make great non-alcoholic cocktails. They’re the perfect way to create a grown-up, “mocktail” that’s not syrupy sweet. Rook’s bar serves a classic Arnold Palmer drink mixed with beet shrub.

       Shrubs are easy to create at home. They’re simply comprised of vinegar, fresh produce in virtually any combination and sweetener to taste. The mixture then sits in a Mason jar or other container at room temperature for a week or two, with tasting every few days to see if it’s ready. “I don’t want to say you can’t mess it up, but vinegar is the best preserver there is,” McClary says. When creating a mixture with a lot of sugar, store it in the refrigerator, because sugar can upset vinegar’s pH level.

       Shanan, a master canner who teaches cooking classes, mixes her shrubs in large batches and divides them among her family members. Her favorite shrub flavors are rosemary-grapefruit and ginger. Once the shrubs are fully infused, she strains them and stores the liquid in the refrigerator. McClary’s customers use the shrubs in cocktails, sodas and even salad dressings and other cooking applications. For sodas, McClary recommends one part drinking vinegar to four parts still or sparkling water. In cocktails, she suggests an ounce of shrub per shot of alcohol, along with a mixer. “Why should we drink vinegar?” she asks. “You should drink it because it tastes good. I get excited when we have people who use this to kick the soda habit. It’s a great way to have something fun and interesting.”

       Adds Rook, “Don’t be afraid of the shrub. It’s a very easy way to preserve produce that’s about to go bad. Instead of composting it or throwing it out, shrub it. Get over that initial fear.”


Heather Lalley is a Chicago-based freelance writer, culinary school graduate and author of The Chicago Homegrown Cookbook. Follow her on Twitter @flourgrrrl.


Rosemary-Grapefruit Shrub


Yields 4 to 6 servings


6 (5-inch) rosemary sprigs

1 cup sugar

1 cup fresh-squeezed grapefruit juice

1 cup apple cider or white vinegar


Combine rosemary and sugar in a bowl, cover and let sit at least eight hours or overnight.

Add the juice to the bowl and stir to dissolve the sugar. Let sit covered overnight.

Pour the mixture through a fine-mesh strainer into a bowl. Add the vinegar and stir to combine the ingredients.

Pour into a container, cover and refrigerate.


Recipe courtesy of Liat Shanan, a Chicago master canner and cooking instructor.


Ginger Shrub


Yields 4 to 6 servings


1 cup peeled and sliced ginger

2 cups apple cider vinegar

1 to 2 cups sugar to taste


Heat ginger and vinegar in a small, non-reactive saucepan over medium-high heat until it boils around the edges.

Transfer to a glass container, let cool, then cover and set aside at room temperature for 24 hours.

Pour the mixture into a strainer and let the ginger drain for about five minutes without pressing on it.

Discard the ginger and transfer the liquid to a non-reactive saucepan.

Stir in the sugar, set it over high heat and bring to a boil, stirring occasionally.

Reduce the heat to very low and simmer for 2 to 3 minutes, stirring occasionally until the sugar has completely dissolved and the shrub is clear.

Cool, cover and refrigerate.


Recipe courtesy of Liat Shanan, master canner and cooking instructor.


The Saskatoon Old-Fashioned


Yields 1 serving


¾ oz McClary Bros. Saskatoon Drinking Vinegar

½ oz turbinado simple syrup

2 oz high-quality whiskey

2 dashes Angostura bitters

3 drops Fee Brothers Black Walnut bitters

2 pieces of orange peel


Combine vinegar, syrup, bitters and orange peel in a cocktail shaker. Stir well.

Add ice cubes and whiskey. Stir again. Strain into an old-fashioned glass over ice.

Add two drops of Black Walnut Bitters. Twist one orange peel over the glass to release the oils. Run the peel around the rim of the glass.


To make turbinado simple syrup: Heat a half-cup of water. Before boiling, add a half-cup of turbinado sugar. Stir and simmer. Once the sugar is dissolved, remove from heat. Cool and place in a glass jar. Store in the refrigerator.


Recipe courtesy of McClary Bros. Drinking Vinegar.