Shrubs: An old tradition makes a comeback at the bar

By on May 4, 2017

What is all this talk of putting decorative lawn bushes in your drinks?  If you have been confused by what a shrub is and how it relates to your favorite new summer drink, you have come to the right place.

What exactly is a shrub?  In terms of mixed drinks, a shrub refers to a cocktail or soft drink that was popular during the colonial era, made by mixing vinegar syrup with spirits, water or carbonated water.

The term “shrub” can also be applied to the sweetened vinegar-based syrup from which the cocktail is made.  These syrups are known as drinking vinegars, and are often infused with fruit juice, herbs and spices for use in mixed drinks.


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. 

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Fruit preserves made in this fashion were themselves known as shrubs and the practice carried over to colonial America and right here on the Outer Banks.

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; afterward, the fruit would be strained out and the remaining liquid would be mixed with a sweetener such as sugar or honey, then reduced to make a syrup.

The sweet-and-sour syrup could be mixed with water or soda water and served as a soft drink, or it could be used as a mixer in alcoholic cocktails.

Shrubs eventually fell out of popularity with the advent of home refrigeration but have made a huge comeback with the rising popularity of craft cocktails.


Here is your chance to bring some shrub to your summer!  Below are a few of our favorites using Outer Banks Olive Oil Company’s balsamic vinegars.  They are sure to liven up your next summer party or weekend of relaxation.

Blueberry Lemon-Thyme Balsamic Sparkling Shrub
2 cups lemon white balsamic
1 cup fresh blueberries crushed
2” sprig fresh thyme (optional)
8 cups chilled sparkling water (or add your favorite liquor)

Strawberry – Peach Balsamic Sparkling Shrub
2 cups Peach white balsamic
1 cup fresh strawberries coarsely chopped and steeped in
8 cups chilled sparkling water (or add your favorite liquor)


Fresh Kiwi & Mango White Balsamic Sparkling Shrub
2 Cups Mango White Balsamic
1 cup peeled sliced kiwi fruit
8 cups chilled sparkling water (or add your favorite liquor)

Lemon-Cucumber-Grapefruit White Balsamic Shrub

2 cups of Grapefruit White Balsamic (or your choice of white balsamic)
1 medium cucumber thinly sliced (about 1 cup)
1/2 lemon thinly sliced
8 cups seltzer water or sparkling water (without sodium added) (or add your favorite liquor)

In a one-liter mason jar or container add the fresh botanical ingredients. Pour the balsamic over the fruit and allow to “infuse” for at least one hour or up to four hours under refrigeration. The longer it sits, the more pronounced the flavor of the fruit infusion. Strain and keep refrigerated and tightly covered for up to one month.

To serve, add 1-2 tablespoons of infused drinking vinegar (shrub) depending on your preference for sweetness to 8 oz. of chilled sparkling water. Serve over ice if desired.

Makes 16 to 32 servings depending on the amount added to water or cocktails.

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