Another guest post by Sharon’s husband and our family’s cocktail aficionado, Anthony Damelio.
I know that I’m a little late to the “shrub” train. This classic cocktail ingredient, which has now become a trend, seems to be everywhere – I’ve recently encountered shrubs in all of our favorite bars and at our local farmers’ market cocktail competition. Excited by the challenge to recreate some of the things Sharon and I have sampled across Atlanta, I came up with this grapefruit shrub and cocktail recipe. As I write this, I have an entirely different shrub brewing on the counter.
What is a “shrub,” you ask? It’s a fairly old way of conserving fresh fruit – and particularly their flavors – by using vinegar and sugar. Some people prefer to make a simple syrup with the fruit and combine it with vinegar off the heat; others, like me, believe that a shrub should be made by steeping vinegar with fruit for several days, without sugar (that comes later). Depends on preference and time, but I’m a fan of the steeping method because by not heating the fruit, you conserve some of the “fresh” flavor.
In the old days, people used to mix shrubs with water or club soda for a refreshing drink. You can still do that, but I think they taste better in a cocktail—a different kind of refreshing!
To create a shrub, start by thinking about which base alcohol you want to use in the final cocktail – gin, tequila, rum, whiskey – along with any other liqueurs or mixers you’re going to add. Consider which fruit and which vinegar you’d like use in your shrub, along with any other spices or herbs. Have fun playing with combinations in your head like bourbon, peach, and thyme; rum, strawberry, and basil; or gin, lemon, and blueberry.
In terms of vinegars, this time of year I prefer mild vinegars like apple cider and champagne vinegar, which don’t overpower the delicate flavors of summer fruit. Try some of the great seasonal – and hopefully organic – produce that’s out there right now (I know grapefruit isn’t in season for most of us), like peaches, plums, and berries; and consider herbs like mint, basil, and thyme, which pair nicely with summer’s bounty.
To make your shrub, submerge your washed and cut fruit, spices, and herbs in the vinegar; cover the container; and allow it to steep out on your counter for a few days or up to a week. Strain and then refrigerate for up to a month – if you don’t use it before then! And then let the experiments begin.
This particular cocktail is a combination of powerful flavors: sweet, spicy, and acidic. If you prefer a spicier drink, simply put more peppers in the chipotle syrup; if you like less heat, use a little plain simple syrup in place of some of the chipotle. But if you like strong flavors, this promises to be a refreshing treat, perfect for the summer heat.
El Río Bravo Cocktail
Makes 1 drink
2 oz. tequila
1 oz. spicy simple syrup (see recipe)
1 oz. grapefruit shrub (see recipe)
1/2 oz.. lime juice
1/2 oz. grapefruit juice
Lime wheels for granish
Combine ingredients in shaker with ice. Shake vigorously and strain into rocks glass filled with fresh ice. Garnish with lime wheels.
Spicy Simple Syrup
Makes 2 cups
2 cups granulated sugar
2 cups water
1 fresh jalapeno pepper, roughly chopped
1 dried chipotle pepper
Combine sugar and water in saucepan over medium heat. Bring to a simmer and stir until sugar is completely dissolved. Remove the pan from the heat, add the jalapeno and chipotle, cover and let steep for at least 30 minutes. Strain syrup through a sieve, discard peppers, and store syrup in a jar in the refrigerator until ready to use.
Makes 2 cups
2 cups apple cider vinegar
Cut the washed grapefruit into chunks and submerge in the vinegar. Let sit on the counter for 4 to 7 days. When the shrub is done macerating, squeeze the grapefruit sections into the shrub and discard them. Strain and refrigerate the shrub until ready to use.