Earlier this summer my parents and I dined at the Chilmark Tavern on Martha’s Vineyard. Located in one of Massachusetts’ eight “dry” towns, a puritanical rule still restricts the restaurant from housing alcohol but diners are allowed to BYOB (phew). Instead of packing a clunky sixer I added a bottle of vodka to the cooler and planned to order a simple cocktail with soda and lime. Once seated, I noticed a “cocktail” menu on the table with fruity concoctions to which they’d add your favorite spirit. I opted for the shrub, a fruit and vinegar-based syrup that last topped the trendy charts in Colonial times, but is back in fashion again and popular with mixologists (along with those hilarious handlebar moustaches).
Shrubs are easy to make, they’re refreshing on a warm day when combined with seltzer, and add a pop of tart flavor and color to cocktails. Here’s a recipe for my favorite shrub.
(makes about 2 cups)
¾ cup water
1, 8-ounce bag frozen cranberries
¾ cup sugar
¼ cup lemon juice
1 bay leaf
1 star anise pod
1 cup apple cider vinegar
Alternative flavor – Swap the lemon juice, bay leaf and star anise pod for ¼ cup lime juice and 1 lemongrass stalk, cut into 2-inch segments.
Combine the water, cranberries, sugar, and lemon juice in a small sauce pot. Set the pot over medium heat and bring the mixture to a bare simmer for 15 to 20 minutes, or until the cranberries pop.
Gently press the hot mixture through a fine-mesh strainer into a bowl, extracting as much liquid as possible but without forcing the solids through the mesh. Add the bay leaf and star anise pod to the hot liquid and allow them to steep for 15 minutes, or up to 1 hour, before discarding them. Pour the vinegar into the liquid and stir to combine.
Place a funnel into large jar then position a coffee filter inside the funnel. Slowly pour and pass the shrub through the coffee filter to catch any remaining solids.
Serving Suggestions –
Nonalcoholic Refresher: fill a glass with ice, add 1½ ounces (3 tablespoons) of the shrub, and 6 ounces seltzer water. Garnish with a lemon wedge.
Cocktail: fill a glass with ice, add 1½ ounces (3 tablespoons) of the shrub, 1 ounce vodka, ½ ounce Grande Marnier and 4 ounces seltzer water. Garnish with a lemon wedge.