What are Cocktails Shrubs & How to Use Them

What are Cocktails Shrubs & How to Use Them

By Laura Fagan Published September 2022

Cocktail shrubs are a delicious, tangy way to add flavor to any cocktail. And no, we aren’t talking about stirring lawn trimmings into your drink!

A shrub is a vinegar-based syrup that is used as a substitute for citrus in cocktails to add intriguing, concentrated flavors. They are typically made with fruit or berries, though other ingredients are sometimes added for flavor. A shrub is usually mixed with a spirit or soda water to layer in a sweet, yet acidic flavor.

With so many options for fresh fruit and aromatics, cocktail shrubs can be used in many ways. You can stir them into a gin and tonic to create something familiar, yet flavorful. You can even try using them as an ice cube in your next crafted cocktail. The possibilities are truly endless!

Join us as we unpack all there is to know about cocktail shrubs, walk you through the different methods to make them and, most importantly, share some spectacular shrub cocktail recipes.


The Start of the Shrub

Shrubs in America can be traced back to Colonial history, and even further back, shrubs were being made by ancient cultures in India and China. So, even though it may sound like a new or trendy cocktail bar term, shrubs have been around longer than most cocktail mixers. The first American shrubs were made by taking fruit, fermenting it with sugar and then adding vinegar and other spices. The colonists called the mixtures “drinking vinegars,” and they were extremely popular before refrigeration or industrially produced foods were prevalent as a common way to preserve fruit.

You may be thinking a vinegar-based additive to your cocktail doesn’t sound very appealing, but don’t knock it ‘til you try it! You’ll find that shrubs create a cocktail with a bit of a tangy bite while being perfectly complemented by the addition of fresh fruit flavors, spices and sweetness.

Cocktail shrubs also have several other attractive qualities. They are a healthier alternative to premade mixers, as they are made with natural ingredients and have an amazing shelf life. You can store them unrefrigerated and unopened for 18-24 months or 9-12 months once opened and refrigerated. Although they won't last that long once you’ve tried them in a cocktail.

Making a Shrub

Before you set off on a shrub-making extravaganza, you’ll need to get some quality vinegar and ensure you have the proper pantry items and kitchen tools, along with any fresh fruit you may be using. You can also use leftover wine to make your own vinegar. Just save some wine after drinking it and let it sit -- you'll have homemade vinegar in no time!

Pantry Items to Have on Hand

  • Organic Cane Sugar

  • Apple Cider Vinegar (ACV) – we recommend organic, unfiltered ACV with mother (the living part of the vinegar – ‘mother’ has five kinds of good bacteria). It also has the desirable flavor to get the shrub’s signature tang.

Kitchen Tools to Have on Hand

  • Cheese cloth

  • Glass jar

  • Small saucepan

  • Cheese grater

  • Hot plate or stove

There are two methods to make a cocktail shrub: a hot process and a cold process. The hot process involves boiling your vinegar mixture together with sugar, fruit and other aromatics until they soften to release flavors. You then strain the mixture with cheesecloth. If needed, you can blend the remaining liquid with more sugar or vinegar until it reaches the desired consistency.

The cold process is a simpler method that involves letting your mixture sit at room temperature until all the flavors have infused. Once you've made your concoction, you can try adding it to either gin or whiskey cocktails.

In this recipe, we’re using the hot process to create an apple shrub for a flavorful fall cocktail.

Bobbing for Apples

Bobbing for Apples


*Apple Shrub:

  • 1 ½ cup apple cider vinegar, split

  • 1 cup organic cane sugar

  • 1 ½ cup of Honeycrisp Apple, grated with skin on

  • 2 star anise

  • 1 cinnamon stick

For the apple shrub:

Add ¾ cup apple cider vinegar and organic cane sugar to a small saucepan over medium heat. Consistently stir until the sugar is completely dissolved. Once dissolved, add apples, star anise and cinnamon stick to mixture. Let simmer for 5 minutes. Once fully combined, remove from heat and allow to cool.

When completely cooled, use a cheese cloth and strain out the solids, reserving the cinnamon stick. Pour strained liquid into an airtight jar with cinnamon stick and add remaining apple cider vinegar to the mixture. Allow it to sit for 2-4 days.

For the cocktail:

Measure and add 1 ½ ounces of Cooper’s Mark Bourbon, 1 ounce of your apple shrub* and 1 ounce of apple cider to a glass with ice. Top with soda water and stir to combine. Garnish with an apple slice.

Other Shrub Cocktail Recipes to Try

The best part about cocktail shrubs is that they are easy to make at home and give you countless flavor options for your favorite drinks. Once you’ve made your first shrub, it’s hard not to want to try other fruit and spice combinations. So, it’s totally ok if you end up having a designated shrub shelf in the pantry and the fridge.

As you get creative with shrub cocktail crafting, remember to strive for a recipe that balances a little sweetness with a little tang. And try one of our other shrub cocktail recipes below:

Apple Orchard Old Fashioned

Apple Orchard Old Fashioned


*Apple Shrub:

  • 1 ¼ cup Honeycrisp apples, grated with skin on

  • ¾ cup sugar

  • 1 cup apple cider vinegar

For the apple shrub: Combine apples, sugar and vinegar in a glass jar with lid. Shake vigorously and refrigerate for 2 to 3 days. Strain the juice into a new container, using a cheesecloth to squeeze as much liquid as possible. Close and store in refrigerator.

For the cocktail: Combine bourbon, apple shrub, maple syrup and bitters in glass. Add ice and stir. Top with soda water and stir briefly to combine. Garnish with apple slices.

Italicus Sunset Spritz

Italicus Sunset Spritz


*Calabrian Chili Tincture:

  • 10 dried Calabrian chilis

  • 4 ounces vodka

**Salted Watermelon Shrub:

  • Two cups watermelon, roughly chopped

  • ½ cup sugar

  • ½ cup red wine vinegar

  • 1 tablespoon salt

  • 2 ounces lemon juice, freshly squeezed

For the tincture: Break apart the chilis and combine with vodka. Allow to sit, covered, at room temperature for 2 days. Strain and add to a dropper bottle.

For the shrub: Combine watermelon, sugar, red wine vinegar and salt. Cover and let sit in refrigerator for 2 days. After 2 days, muddle the mixture, add lemon juice and strain. Will last approximately 5 days.

For the cocktail: Combine liqueur, tincture, watermelon shrub and rosé over ice in a glass. Garnish with a watermelon slice.

Ready to try your hand at shrub making and enjoy some intriguing shrub cocktails? Stop by your local ABC store to grab the spirits and goods you need to get you shrub-ready.

Interested in learning more? Visit our ABC Blog page.