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Shrub (drink)

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A peach 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.[1][2][3]

The word shrub can also refer to a cocktail or soft drink that was popular during America's colonial era, made by mixing a vinegared syrup with spirits, water, or carbonated water.[1][4][5] The term can also be applied to the base, a sweetened vinegar-based syrup from which the cocktail is made; that syrup is also known as drinking vinegar.[3][6][7] Drinking vinegar is often infused with fruit juice, herbs and spices, for use in mixed drinks.[6][8][9]


The early English version of the shrub arose from the medicinal cordials of the 15th century.[1] The drink gained popularity among smugglers in the 1680s trying to avoid paying import taxes for goods shipped from mainland Europe:[1][3] To avoid detection, smugglers would sometimes sink barrels of spirits off-shore to be retrieved later;[1] the addition of fruit flavours aided in masking the taste of alcohol fouled by sea water.[1] [unreliable source?] An early Rum Shrub recipe from The English and Australian Cookery Book called for almonds, cloves, cassia, and the peel of oranges, "infused in the best rum," with the addition of a thread of ambergris and vanilla. "Good shrub is very delicious, and were it fashionable it would obtain rank as a liqueur."[10]

As a mixture of fruit and alcohol, shrub is related to punch, however punches were normally served immediately after mixing the ingredients, whereas shrubs tended to have a higher concentration of flavour and sugar and could be stored for later use, much like a pre-made drink mixer.[1] The shrub was itself a common ingredient in punches, either on its own or as a simple mix with brandy or rum.[1] It was also served during the Christmas season mixed with raisins, honey, lemon, sherry, rum and other spirits.[1] The shrub was sold in most public houses throughout England in the 17th and 18th centuries, although the drink fell out of fashion by the late 1800s.[1]

A proprietary cordial known as Shrub was developed by J. R. Phillips of Bristol. "Rum and Shrub" was a popular drink in Bristol and the west of England in the 20th century long after the convention had died out elsewhere. It is still sold today.[11]

The American version of the shrub has its origins in 17th century England where vinegar was used as an alternative to citrus juices in the preservation of berries and other fruits for the off-season.[12][13] Fruit preserves made in this fashion were themselves known as shrubs[12] and the practice carried over to colonial America.[4][6] By the 19th century, typical American recipes for shrubs used vinegar poured over fruit—traditionally berries—which was left to infuse anywhere from overnight up to several days; afterwards, the fruit would be strained out and the remaining liquid would be mixed with a sweetener such as sugar or honey and then reduced to make a syrup.[6][8][14] The sweet-and-sour syrup could be mixed with either water or soda water and served as a soft drink, or it could be used as a mixer in alcoholic cocktails.[4][13][14] Shrubs eventually fell out of popularity with the advent of home refrigeration.[12][15]

21st century usage[edit]

The serving of vinegar-based shrub drinks became popular again in 2011 in American restaurants and bars.[4][16][17][18] The trend has also been noted in bars in Canada[12][19] as well as London.[20] The acidity of the shrub makes it well suited as an apéritif or used as an alternative to bitters in cocktails.[3][15][17][19] Unlike cocktails acidulated with citrus, vinegar-based drinks will remain clear when shaken.[15] The rising popularity of kombucha and similar fermented drinks in the late 2010s and early 2020s helped spread the popularity of shrubs further, with many cafes, bars and restaurants making their own out of seasonal fruit, and offering it as a low-sugar alternative to sodas.[21]


The term "shrub" is borrowed from the Arabic word sharāb meaning "to drink".[2][22]

See also[edit]

  • Gastrique – Caramelized sugar, deglazed with vinegar
  • Oxymel – Mixture of honey and vinegar, used as a medicine
  • Posca – Ancient Roman drink
  • Raspberry vinegar – drink made from raspberry juice, vinegar and sugar
  • Squash (drink) – Non-alcoholic concentrated syrup
  • Switchel – Type of drink containing vinegar and ginger
  • Sekanjabin – sour and sweet drink


  1. ^ a b c d e f g h i j Oakley, Tim (August 9, 2011). "Shrubs". Class Magazine. Difford's Guide. Retrieved September 10, 2012.
  2. ^ a b "shrub2". Oxford Lexico. Oxford University Press. February 2020. Archived from the original on October 24, 2020. Retrieved February 11, 2020.
  3. ^ a b c d Toland, Bill (September 6, 2012). "Spirits: Vinegary 'shrubs' are growing on people". Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. Retrieved September 10, 2012.
  4. ^ a b c d Gelt, Jessica (May 26, 2012). "What's shaking in the cocktail scene? Shrubs". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved September 10, 2012.
  5. ^ Christians, Lindsay (May 8, 2012). "Salud! Shrubs for sipping, not clipping". 77 Square. madison.com. Retrieved September 10, 2012.
  6. ^ a b c d Loeb, Katie (2012). Homegrown Cocktails: How to Make Your Own Infused Liquors, Spirits, Bitters, and Other Drinks with Fresh Ingredients, Plus 50 Original Cocktail Recipes. Quarry Books. p. 90. ISBN 978-1592537976. Retrieved September 10, 2012.
  7. ^ "Sharp as a Tack - DIY drinking vinegars and shrubs are a snap to make at home". Imbibe (37). May–June 2012. Retrieved September 10, 2012.
  8. ^ a b Katz, Sandor; Michael, Pollan (2012). The Art of Fermentation: An In-Depth Exploration of Essential Concepts and Processes from Around the World. Chelsea Green Publishing. p. 177. ISBN 978-1603582865. Retrieved September 10, 2012. shrub.
  9. ^ Virbila, S. Irene (February 10, 2012). "When is a shrub not a bush? Hint: when you can drink it". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved September 10, 2012.
  10. ^ Abbott, Edward (1864). The English and Australian Cookery Book.
  11. ^ "Phillips of Bristol Shrub (Old English Alcoholic Cordial)". Master of Malt.
  12. ^ a b c d Gill, Alexandra (August 28, 2012). "Cocktails take an acid trip". Globe and Mail. Retrieved September 10, 2012.
  13. ^ a b Brockhoff, Anne (May 15, 2012). "Bartenders revive the tang of old-time 'shrubs' in modern cocktails". Kansas City Star. Archived from the original on 2013-01-27. Retrieved September 10, 2012.
  14. ^ a b "Syphons, soda and shrub". Good Housekeeping. 11. University of Michigan: Hearst Corporation: 164. 1890. Retrieved September 10, 2012.
  15. ^ a b c D'Ambrosio, Felicia (June 12, 2012). "Mind the Shrubs: A Colonial Cocktail Ingredient Is Back in Vogue". The Drink Nation. Fruition Capital. Retrieved September 10, 2012.
  16. ^ Millman, China (November 16, 2011). "Harvest meets cocktail: Vegetable fruit vinegar beverage is reborn as tangy drink mixer". Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. Retrieved September 10, 2012.
  17. ^ a b Simonson, Robert (October 11, 2011). "Make Mine a Vinegar Solution". New York Times. Retrieved September 10, 2012.
  18. ^ Sterling, Justine (September 6, 2012). "Trend: Tangy Vinegar Cocktails". Huffington Post. Retrieved August 23, 2012.
  19. ^ a b "65. Because shrubs are the new bitters". The Grid. Torstar. June 27, 2012. Archived from the original on 2014-07-10. Retrieved September 10, 2012.
  20. ^ Orr, Gillian (February 10, 2012). "Sweet on sour: Vinegar adds an intriguing acid twist to everything from roasts to cocktails". The Independent. Retrieved September 10, 2012.
  21. ^ Crisp, Regan (August 17, 2022). "A Culture of Drinks: How Fermented Beverages Are Changing Café Menus". Fresh Cup. Fresh Cup. Retrieved January 22, 2023.
  22. ^ "English: shrub2". Collins English Dictionary - Complete & Unabridged (10th ed.). William Collins Sons & Co. 2009. Retrieved September 10, 2012.

Further reading[edit]

  • Michael Dietsch, Shrubs: An Old Fashioned Drink for Modern Times, Countryman Press (October 6, 2014), hardcover, 224 pages ISBN 1581572441 ISBN 978-1581572445