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Shrub and Andy McNees

Posted by Josh Childs  October 25, 2012 06:43 PM

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I walked into the fantastic and welcoming bar/restaurant Toro on a recent afternoon, greeted immediately by assistant general manager Katy Chirichiello (yeah, I had to ask her how to spell it). Friendly faces were everywhere, Jason Cheek behind the line, Garrett Salomon behind one end of the bar, and on the other, the man I initially came to see, Andy McNees. His bartending pedigree is prodigious- B-Side Lounge, Bukowski's, Eastern Standard, Green Street; so it is no wonder I've enlisted his help in learning more about shrubs. Not gardening mind you, the kind used in drinks; and, the best part? I got to sample a couple of delicious cocktails- hard work, I know.

Andy kindly sent over the following details and how-to; take it away Mr. McNees:

Shrubs: A brief history and recipe.

Shrubs are a tart, acidic, sweet syrup made from fruit, vinegar and sugar. They can be consumed on their own, or mixed with tonic, water or soda but, more often than not, most shrubs today are found as an ingredient in cocktails. The term shrub is derived from the Arabic word, sharab, to drink. In colonial times vinegar was consumed for it's medicinal properties and was also used as a preservative for fruits and vegetables. With the of addition of sugars a refreshing elixir could be made, and as with most things quaffable, alcohol soon entered the equation. Rum and Brandy, the most prevalent spirits of the day, were often mixed with shrubs in punches and other libations.
The advent of home refrigeration put an end to shrubs as a popular preservative but the rise of 'mixology' in the last decade has seen a revival as an ingredient in cocktail lists throughout the country.

Shrub recipe:

1. Choose your fruit or vegetable. Sweeter choices usually require less additional sugar later in the process. Different choices will also yield more or less shrub. I was able to get 4 quarts of shrub from 15 lbs. of blueberries and 3 quarts from 5 lbs. of pears. De-stem, de-seed and get rid of any pits or stones, discard any fruits with visable rot and make sure your choice is ripe.

2. Chop your fruits or veggies up if they are larger, quartering should suffice. Berries are fine as is.

3. Put your choice in a non-reactive bowl or container. Make sure it has a deep enough volume for the vinegar you will soon be adding. Muddle the fruit or veggies until they are broken down (it is okay if there are still some chunks left). Some fruits muddle easier than others so the time can vary. The natural sugars will begin to ferment but since this recipe calls for a weeks time, any alcohol produced will be minimal.

4. Cover with vinegar. I have used different vinegars with different fruits. Apple cider vinegar goes well with pears and champagne vinegar mixes nicely with apricots but the choice is up to you. Plain white vinegar is a good standby. As you add the vinegar make sure to mix it in so it gets all the way to the bottom of the container.

5. After the vinegar has been added cover and seal the container. Saran wrap and tape work well. This will allow you to see how funky your shrub will look over the next week. Stir or shake your shrub for at least 30 seconds every day. Stirring is preferred but I once made a habenero shrub that was too scary to repeatedly open and stir- so a hearty shake can also suffice.

6. After seven days pour the contents of your container into a large pot and add sugar. For a 5 lb. batch of fruit I usually add 2 cups of sugar. Boil on a low temp. for an hour, stirring occasionally. The shrub is now ready to be strained off. Make sure to muddle any larger chunks of fruit that have not been broken down, there is good shrub in there! Taste before your shrub cools down. If you think it is not sweet enough just stir some more sugar in.

7. Let your shrub cool down before you refrigerate. It should stay fresh for a couple of months.

So, I am going to try raspberry, what are you going to use? Next time at Toro let Andy know your results- here are two terrific examples of what his can do:

La Silva 1 oz Fig Shrub, 1.5 oz Rittenhouse Rye, 1 oz Maple Liqueur, .25 oz lemon juice

Toro La S.jpg

Bartlett 2 0z Laird's Applejack, 1 oz Pear Shrub, .5 oz pear syrup, .5 oz lemon juice

Toro Bartlett.jpg

This blog is not written or edited by Boston.com or the Boston Globe.
The author is solely responsible for the content.

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