Spirited: Colonial Spirits

Artisan drinking vinegars are making a return from their long-ago heyday

Shrubs, drinking vinegars whose unusual name is derived from the Arabic word “sharab,” meaning drink, are once again in vogue. Featured in cocktails throughout Westchester, these sweet-tart syrups of fruit or herbs, sugar, and vinegar were popularly used in Colonial times as a way to prevent excess fruit from spoiling. They’ve caught the taste buds of mixologists and drinkers who appreciate the complexity shrubs’ pure essence and pungency add to cocktails. 

Kelle Kerr, bar manager of Scarsdale’s Meritage, attributes interest to “people being more conscious of crafting cocktails, going back to the old recipes.” She likes how shrubs cut a drink’s sweetness. A house-made strawberry-rhubarb shrub, bourbon, Pierre Ferrand Dry Curaçao, and fresh-squeezed lemon juice compose her Rhubarb Sling. 

Shrub-making is simple: Fruit or herbs are boiled (hot process) or macerated with sugar (cold process), creating a syrup that is mixed with a complementary vinegar.  

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At Gleason’s in Peekskill, bartender Jessica Sordyl’s pomegranate shrub sits, so the flavors develop, and then is combined with Hornitos tequila, a splash of mezcal, Cointreau, fresh-squeezed lime juice, and jalapeños, for a cocktail named Midnight at the Oasis. She notes shrubs’ “crisp, clean flavor” and adds: “They’re super-delicious, even just added to seltzer water and ice.”