how to make shrubs {aka drinking vinegars} | 3 refreshing recipes

Shrub. What a funny, little word.

When I passionately mention my newly acquired skill of shrub-making to my friends, the first thing that comes to their minds is usually that scene from Monty Python and the Holy Grail, when the “Knights Who Say Ni” demand a shrubbery. Of course, the Knights desired a shrub of the green and leafy variety. If only I were there, when that demand was made. I would’ve had a much more exciting and delicious rendition of what they were asking for!

So, what does the word, shrub, mean, exactly? Michael Dietsch explains in rich detail the history of shrub-making, which dates way beyond even Colonial times, within the pages of his recent book, Shrubs: An Old Fashioned Drink for Modern Times. A shrub is basically fruit, or even vegetables, combined with two other components: sugar and vinegar. After the correct ratio of those ingredients integrate over a little time, the result is a perfect balance of tartness, sugar, acidity, and texture. Shrubs are mouth-watering and concentrated, and they taste amazing when combined with soda water or integrated into a cocktail.

how to make shrubs | holly & flora

The first time I even heard about shrubs, aka “drinking vinegars”, was on a recent trip to Oregon, back in the fall of 2013. I was working the Pinot Noir harvest with EIEIO & Co Winery, and I, along with the other members of the internship team, met up for dinner at Pok Pok, an award-winning Thai restaurant in Portland. Jay, the winemaker at EIEIO, insisted that I try one of Pok Pok’s drinking vinegars. I was kind of in the mood for a beer, but I acquiesced and chose the tamarind drinking vinegar from a list of about ten different, and often rotating, options.

I’ll admit that I was a little skeptical, at first. Drinking vinegar? I didn’t even know if that sounded appetizing. I was completely proven wrong, when I had my first, refreshingly vibrant sip. I quickly ordered another flavor and then thought about the possibilities of adding a shrub to a cocktail. I was smitten immediately, but it wasn’t until this past month that I became insanely obsessed with the shrub-making process.

how to make shrubs | holly & floraI promise you that you’ll be pleasantly surprised the first time you make or taste a shrub. They really don’t require a lot of work, just a little time and patience. Once you’ve made the shrub, strained it into a clean Mason jar, and let it rest for a week, the shrub is ready to drink. Shrubs will keep up to about six months, but discard if the shrub begins to bubble or ferment, or develops a slimy texture.

how to make shrubs | holly & flora how to make shrubs | holly & floraFor each of the recipes shown here, I incorporated the technique of making an oleo-saccharum during the shrub-making process. The phrase translates as “oily sugar” and is made by combining sugar with the zest of citrus and letting it integrate over the course of an hour or so. Adding this zesty sugar to a shrub recipe brightens the shrub and adds a depth of complexity to the mix. I especially noticed what the lemony sugar did to my raspberry-mint shrub – it added a punch of citrus and really balanced the flavors.

I learned this technique from the book, Shrubs, and it is super easy to follow.


how to make an oleo-saccharum


  1. Remove the zest of your citrus fruits with a vegetable peeler. You may use the skins of oranges, lemons, or grapefruits. Michael Diestch advises avoiding limes, since their skins are much more bitter.
  2. Be sure to avoid removing the tough, white piths of the citrus, when you’re peeling the zest away. The photo below shows the results you are looking for.
  3. In a bowl, combine the strips of zest with whatever measurement of sugar your recipe calls for. Using either a cocktail muddler or a sturdy, wooden spoon, really put some elbow grease into pressing the zest into the sugar.
  4. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and let it rest for at least an hour.
  5. Remove the peels, once the time has passed. Your oleo-saccharum or “oily sugar” is ready to use!

how to make shrubs | holly & flora how to make shrubs | holly & flora how to make shrubs | holly & flora


blood orange shrub


  • 5 or 6 medium blood oranges, peeled and juiced {yield is about 1 1/2 cups juice}
  • 1/2 cup turbinado or raw sugar
  • 3/4 cup Champagne vinegar or white wine vinegar
  1. Following the oleo-saccharum method above, combine the peeled skins of the oranges {the colored part of the orange peels} with the sugar, cover with plastic wrap, and set aside for at least one hour.
  2. Juice the blood oranges.
  3. Once the oleo-saccharum is ready, remove the pieces of orange zest and add the blood orange juice and the Champagne vinegar to the sugar mixture.
  4. Stir well to dissolve any sugar particles.
  5. Transfer the shrub mixture into a clean jar, seal it, and shake it to further blend the ingredients. Store the shrub mixture in the refrigerator. Allow 2 to 3 days for the flavors to meld, before enjoying.
  • A special thanks to Michael Dietsch for letting me post his recipe for an orange shrub! I agree with him that the orange flavor matches perfectly with the raw sugar and Champagne vinegar. The next two recipes are my own creation, but were influenced by the tips and steps within his book.
  • Tip: When I tried removing the orange peels from the sugar, I found that a lot of the sugar was sticking to the peels. I didn’t want to lose all that sugar, so I simply poured the juice and the vinegar into the bowl of zest and sugar. I stirred the mixture well and then poured it through a fine-mesh strainer. I then tossed the zest.

how to make shrubs | holly & flora how to make shrubs | holly & flora how to make shrubs | holly & flora


strawberry + peppercorn shrub


  • 2 cups strawberries, hulled and quartered
  • 2 lemons, peeled
  • 1 cup cane sugar
  • 1 cup apple cider vinegar
  • 30 black peppercorns, coarsely crushed
  1. Using the oleo-saccharum technique, muddle the lemon peels with the sugar in a bowl. Cover the sugar mixture with plastic wrap and set aside for at least an hour.
  2. Once the hour has passed, remove the peels from the sugar and add the hulled and quartered strawberries, along with the coarsely crushed peppercorns, to the bowl. Stir to incorporate.
  3. Cover the strawberry mixture with plastic wrap, transfer to the refrigerator, and store for two hours.
  4. Remove the mixture from the fridge and muddle the mixture even further, getting out as much juice as possible from the berries.
  5. Add the vinegar to the strawberry mixture. Cover the bowl again, transfer the mixture back into the fridge, and store for two days.
  6. Remove the mixture from the fridge, muddle the berries again and strain through a chinois or fine-mesh strainer into a clean Mason jar.
  7. Store the shrub mixture in the fridge for a week to further integrate the flavors, before enjoying. Shake before using.

This recipe sounds a little labor-intensive, but follow the directions, and you won’t be disappointed with the results. This shrub has a sweet-tart strawberry flavor with a subtle, peppery finish.

how to make shrubs | holly & flora how to make shrubs | holly & flora


raspberry + mint shrub


  • 2 cups raspberries
  • 1 cup cane sugar
  • 2 lemons, peeled
  • 1/4 cup mint leaves
  • 1 cup apple cider vinegar
  1. Prepare your oleo-saccharum by peeling the skins of the lemons with a vegetable peeler. In a bowl, muddle the peels with the sugar, cover with plastic wrap, and wait for at least an hour.
  2. Add the raspberries and mint to the sugar mixture and muddle the raspberries, expressing some of their juice. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and transfer into the fridge. Let it sit for one day.
  3. Remove the raspberry mix from the fridge, muddle the fruit even more, and then add the vinegar to the mix. Stir to integrate and dissolve the sugar.
  4. Strain the mixture through a chinois or a fine-mesh strainer into a clean Mason jar.
  5. Store the shrub mixture in the refrigerator. Allow 1 week for the flavors to meld, before enjoying. Shake before using.

how to make shrubs | holly & flora

There you have it! Have you been smitten with the shrub-making bug like I have? If so, what tips do you have to offer? Any recipes you absolutely love? Clue me in! I can’t wait for gardening season to fully kick in. I have visions of celery shrubs, beet shrubs, and even herbal shrubs.

Oh! You probably want some ideas for how to actually incorporate those tasty shrubs of yours. I enjoy adding a shrub to a glass of ice and sparkling water, like the ones shown in the photos here, but they make amazing additions to cocktails. I like tossing in a small portion of shrub, say, an ounce, along with some gin and soda. Super simple. I did find a pretty good “cocktail generator equation”, via Bill Norris, contributor at Badass Digest:


basic shrub cocktail equation


  •  1 ½ to 2 parts base spirit {ex: gin}
  • 1 part complementary flavored liqueur {ex: citrus liqueur}
  • 1/2 part shrub
  • 2 dashes bitters {ex: orange or chamomile bitters}

Just combine those ingredients, along with ice, in a cocktail shaker. Shake thoroughly and strain either served up or over ice, along with a dash of soda. Garnish with an herb sprig, slice of fruit, or citrus wheel. Enjoy!

Cheers to shrubs, discovering new preservation techniques, and to the laughter and silliness that the entire Monty Python movement brought us. Now, go and cut down the tallest tree in the forest with a herring! 😉

XO,

Jayme

Jayme Henderson

I am a sommelier-turned-farmer, who recently moved to Colorado's Western Slope to become a full-time grower of grapes and maker of wine. My husband, Steve, and I own and live on a vineyard, where we craft high-elevation white wine and rosé under our label, The Storm Cellar. I enjoy freelance writing and photography, and I am currently the cocktail columnist for Colorado's Spoke+Blossom magazine. I love playing with our two cats, gardening, mixing drinks, finding (and sipping!) great sparkling wine, cooking, playing the piano, and hiking.

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53 Comments

  1. Reply

    Edith Schmidt

    March 3, 2015

    You had me at Monty Python, and a tasty drink too!!

    • Reply

      Jayme Henderson

      March 3, 2015

      Bahhh!!! Edie, I had to restrain myself from writing out further quotes! Do you have the Flying Circus shows? If not, you have to get them or gain access to them. It is the best therapy!! 😂

  2. Reply

    hoochandhome

    March 5, 2015

    I’ve never heard of shrubs!!!!! I can’t’ wait to try this!

  3. Reply

    Jayme Henderson

    March 6, 2015

    Let me know if you make one! 🙂 Super easy – you just need a little patience. Making a shrub is a great way to use up any excess amounts of fruit you have on-hand. I always have extra berries after I do some jam-making; this is definitely going to be the summer of shrubs for me. Happy weekend, ladies!! PS – loved your recent review of The Craft of the Cocktail – a classic, for sure.

  4. Reply

    paulathomas2015

    March 6, 2015

    Hi Jayme. Great post, won’t been attempting this without the help of the Mr.
    Also, I just nominated Holly and Floral for Saveur’s best blogs in the cocktail category. Voting begins March 13. Good luck!

    • Reply

      Jayme Henderson

      March 8, 2015

      Paula, thanks SOOO much for nominating me! I am blushing! 🙂 Thank you for wishing me good luck – I’ll take it! And let me know if you make a shrub this spring. They seriously are a passive-style activity and taste so refreshing. Big hugs to you! XO!

  5. Reply

    Sean

    March 11, 2015

    I’ve been crazy for shrubs since this book came out. I made the celery shrub — a real revelation!

  6. Reply

    punkdomestics

    March 11, 2015

    I’ve been so inspired by this book. I made the celery shrub — a real revelation!

    • Reply

      Jayme Henderson

      March 12, 2015

      I am definitely going to make the celery shrub! I am seriously smitten with the shrub bug, too. The savory and herbaceous shrubs seem really interesting. I could totally see that celery shrub having a role in a Bloody Mary, maybe with some peppercorn-infused vodka? How have you used your celery shrub?

  7. Reply

    Rebecca

    March 17, 2015

    I’ve gotten into the shrub habit, and have made a Concord grape version that is just delicious, as well as a peach one. i tend to just drink mine in cold water, 1/4 shrub to 3/4 water for a refreshing beverage.
    I would like to point out that it would be a good idea to SCRUB your citrus before using the peels, as they could be dirty, or have residues of the waxes that are commonly used on these fruits after harvest.

    • Reply

      Jayme Henderson

      March 17, 2015

      I completely agree with you, Rebecca, about scrubbing the citrus well – great point. I’ve mentioned before to buy organic, as well, since pesticide residue is only measured by the amounts contained in the actual fruit {the flesh}, not on the skins, which will, of course, have more pesticide residue accumulated there. I am SO with you on the simplicity of just water and shrub! It’s great to hear that someone else has caught the “shrub bug” – I will have to make a Concord grape version, too. That sounds incredibly delicious! It wouldn’t last long here in my household! 😉 Have you used shrubs in any vinaigrettes yet? They are a perfect addition to olive oil, salt and pepper, and maybe a little lemon juice.

  8. Reply

    Renee

    July 12, 2015

    Thank you so much for posting this. I have only had a shrub once – at a restaurant called Husk in Charleston SC – and I loved it! It’s strange, but seemed like it cleansed me internally. I am looking forward to trying the raspberry mint recipe.

    • Reply

      Jayme Henderson

      July 16, 2015

      You’re so welcome, Renee. I questioned whether I’d like my first shrub, and I ended up loving it (obviously). And I feel the SAME way about it cleansing me internally! Kind of like kombucha. I always feel better after drinking some. Let me know if you end up making the raspberry shrub. I am working on a summer citrus shrub right now. 🙂

    • Reply

      Suzanne

      October 24, 2015

      So funny, I too went to the husk just this month and had my first ever shrub. I’ve been dying for another since. Now that I’m back home in Florida and have no clue where to find one, I must make my own!
      The Husk got me hooked on shrubs!

      • Jayme Henderson

        October 24, 2015

        Ahhhhh!! That’s awesome! Which shrub did you have at the Husk? You’ve got to make one!! What do you think you’ll do? Now that I have the hang of it, there is always at least one in rotation in my fridge. Right now it’s an apple and spice shrub and a fig version. Tell Florida to get with it! 😂

  9. Reply

    Sandra L Mort

    July 30, 2015

    OH MY GOODNESS, I’ve never met anybody else before who thinks of Knights Who Say Ni when they hear the word “shrub” before. Thank you for sharing that!!!!

    • Reply

      Jayme Henderson

      August 3, 2015

      Ahhhhh! Thanks for catching the joke! I seriously bust out laughing every time I hear the word “shrub” or “shrubbery”. I am going to put in some Flying Circus tonight, in fact. Love me those guys!!!!

  10. Reply

    Cheryl Moody

    December 10, 2015

    I wondered if you’ve ever heated this in the old fashioned canning way so it didn’t require refrigeration

    • Reply

      Jayme Henderson

      December 11, 2015

      Hi, Cheryl! I really enjoy the fresh taste of the shrubs and wouldn’t want to give it too much heat by means of a hot water bath. I drink them up quickly enough to not worry about shelf-life. Have you ever made shrubs and processed them in a hot water bath before? I’d love some tips, if you have! Preserving them would stretch out their deliciousness even further. I’d love to be sipping on my blood orange shrub right about now.

  11. Reply

    Linda Pierce

    December 21, 2015

    I took a class and learned about shrubs and have now made several of my own. I even made some out of dried cherries (reconstituted them) and wine mulling spices..it is sooo good!! I bought the book and use it as a guide..it’s great!!

    • Reply

      Jayme Henderson

      December 22, 2015

      That’s so awesome! Your cherry and wine mulling spice shrub sounds just about perfect!! I might have to try the same with some of my dried cherries. I haven’t made one with cherries yet. Isn’t this book the best? It is a great starting point and really gets your head around what shrubs are all about. I’ve experimented more confidently because of reading it. So happy you’re enjoying it!!

  12. Reply

    Drinking Vinegar

    December 30, 2015

    I love using shrubs in my sodas, thanks for sharing!

    • Reply

      Jayme Henderson

      December 30, 2015

      Right? They’re the best!

      • susanne

        January 4, 2016

        Can you substitute honey for the sugar?

      • Jayme Henderson

        January 4, 2016

        Susanne, yes, you can! In fact, there are two terms associated with drinking vinegars: “shrubs” and “switchels.” Shrubs are drinking vinegars made with cane sugar, white OR apple cider vinegar, and fruits (or vegetables). Switchels are drinking vinegars made with honey, apple cider vinegar (specifically), and fruits (or vegetables). So, you’ll technically be making a “switchel” if you decide to substitute honey for the cane sugar. It will be delicious, regardless. Cheers!

  13. Reply

    Marcus D.

    May 2, 2016

    Hello Jayme, I have a recommendation for you to improve your Shrubs, I have been making shrub recipes for years and have tried about every type of vinegar out there (White, Apple cider, 25-year aged Balsamic, Black Fig, Champagne and Red or White Wine vinegar’s) and I have found one that works the best with any shrub or switchel recipe. I have found that Marukan rice vinegar has the best balance and smoothness that really makes a superior shrub over any other type of vinegar. Hell…. they have been brewing the stuff since, 1649! I highly recommend replacing your current vinegar and let me know what you think.

    • Reply

      Jayme Henderson

      June 4, 2016

      Hi, Marcus. I just caught your comment – I love using rice vinegar with shrubs. I’ve also experimented with a few others, and I’m with you on the smoothness factor. I’ll have to look for Marukan rice vinegar, specifically. Thanks for sharing!

  14. Reply

    Tory Klementsen

    May 29, 2016

    I have been drinking shrubs all spring since I ordered one at a restaurant! I actually just made a turmeric tea for my husband’s knees and took and made a simple syrup, after added ginger and a vanilla bean and then a little vinegar and it’s actually very tasty over ice!

    • Reply

      Jayme Henderson

      May 30, 2016

      That’s so great that you discovered shrubs at a restaurant, similar to my experience! That combination of flavors sounds just about perfect. How did you go about making your tea for your husband? Turmeric has been a saving grace for us this year. It has SO many health benefits. I’m so curious how you made it!

  15. Reply

    Tory Klementsen

    May 29, 2016

    …and now that I have read your note, Jayme, I see that for the turmeric I actually made him a Switchel as I used honey.

    • Reply

      Jayme Henderson

      May 30, 2016

      I just realized that you already answered my question. That’s so great. Did you like the flavor?

  16. Reply

    Tory Klementsen

    June 24, 2016

    I did like the flavor! I’m going to make a ginger shrub with just ginger and vanilla bean and some more turmeric today since it’s a nasty, cold summer day. Raspberry has been my favorite lately, using just the cold version (sugar, raspberries, that’s all).

    • Reply

      sindinc

      August 17, 2016

      How are you using the turmeric in your shrub, chopped or grated? Also, are you adding it with the fruit or after.

  17. Reply

    Karen Nelson

    October 29, 2016

    I am wondering if you could make the raspberry mint shrub using frozen raspberries from our summer garden? Would you thaw them first or mix them with the sugar frozen and then carry on the process?
    Thank you…Karen

    • Reply

      Jayme Henderson

      November 1, 2016

      Hi, Karen! I haven’t used frozen fruit to make a shrub, but I am going to try it, as well. We have some frozen peaches that would be perfect in a shrub. I say go for it. I’d pour the frozen raspberries in with the sugar, and stir it together, as the raspberries thaw. Totally worth a shot, and I don’t see any reason why it wouldn’t work! Let me know how it turns out. I’m always about stretching out as much as possible from the summer garden, too. Great idea!!

  18. Reply

    Danae

    January 25, 2017

    Love this! Just bought some shrub over the weekend at a chocolate festival. I hadn’t hear of it before and loved the taste. I like it so much in carbonated water that I searched for how to make it and found this thread–so exciting! We were told the shrub did not need to be refrigerated because of the vinegar….thoughts?

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