If you’re an extra observant drinker, you may have noticed this thing called “shrub” popping up on more and more cocktail menus around town. No, it’s not an actual bush in your drink, but rather a sweet and tart tincture or syrup made from a process that originated from ye olden times (aka Colonial America). Thanks to the craft cocktail movement with bartenders scouring old cocktail books for new-old methods, the shrub has seen a resurgence of interest. Bartenders like to use them to add a sweet, tart and sour flavor to their drinks.
Justin Pike of Venice’s Tasting Kitchen took to the process since he’s not really a big fan of the whole farm to bar cocktail trend and therefore doesn’t keep his bar constantly stocked with fresh fruit. With shrubs he can still add the fruit component without fear of attracting fruit flies or high-maintenance drinkers. Justin whips out the shrub cocktails for those looking for a light drink that’s not too sweet.
To show me how easy it is to make a shrub, Justin took me through the steps on how he makes his Watermelon White Pepper shrub (recipe on Edible Westside), or at least start the process since it takes a number of days to complete.
There are a couple of ways to make a shrub but he uses the cold process method which, although it takes more time than the stovetop way, is known for extruding a more flavorful syrup.
How To Make Watermelon White Pepper Shrub
This particular shrub is used in Justin’s Summer Shrub Spritzer, a light, effervescent cocktail of gin, sparkling wine, dry vermouth, cucumber and club soda.
If you’d like to explore more shrub cocktails, whose prominent flavor Justin has likened to kombucha, here are some of my favorites around town.
Favorite Shrub Cocktails in LA
Baco Mercat’s Inca Punch: pisco, Chicha morada shrub, lemon, lime, pineapple. Loved this full bodied, well-balanced cocktail which was created by Chef Josef Centeno himself. The shrub gives it some burn and heat at the back of the throat. Even when you finish the drink don’t leave behind the chunks of pineapple which are extra juicy and well-marinated in the cocktail.
Drago Centro’s Age Over Beauty: Ron Zacapa rum, Lillet, 25-yr-old Balsamic blackberry shrub. Another favorite! You taste the balsamic on the backend. Berry up front. Vinegar is subtle but gives it a sweet sour flavor. Deelish. Sweet vinegar but not harsh.
Library Bar at Hollywood Roosevelt’s Last Tango in Modena: Hendricks Gin, muddled strawberries, 3-year-old balsamic vinegar, St. Germain foam. Bartender Matthew Biancaniello first made me this cocktail back in 2009 when he was still newish to the cocktail scene, and instantly I knew he was something mighty special. It’s basically that wonderful Italian dessert — strawberries with balsamic vinegar — in a cocktail!
Playa’s A Vicious Rumor: butter-washed mescal, lemon, peach brandy, Bittermens celery shrub, cinnamon bark tincture. It finishes with the smoke from the mescal, bite of sour and citrus but savory mid palate. Went really well with the spicy Thai tamale.
Sunny Spot’s Dry Harbour: pot still rum, lime, absinthe, habanero pineapple shrub. So drinkable that it’s on Sunny Spot’s brunch cocktail menu.
Villains Tavern’s Angel’s Trumpet: Maker’s 46, pomegranate ginger apple shrub, pineapple, mint, ginger beer, bitters. Villains Tavern has a number of shrub cocktails but I liked Angel’s Trumpet the best. You get that bite of the vinegar midpalate. And since the cocktail I had was made with club soda instead of the ginger beer stated on the menu, it was subtle.