In Pregnancy · In The Kitchen

Shrubs: A Beacon of Light in the World of Boozeless Liquids for Your Pregnant Lady

Finding out you’re going to have a child is simultaneously unbelievable joyful and really inconvenient.

Fortunately for everyone involved, the joys far outweigh the inconveniences (we’ll see where I stand on that statement in a decade or two). The first inconvenience hurdle we hit was that my bar cart immediately shifted from a regular evening staple to a few rows of “really shouldn’ts” and “definitely frowned upons”. But it had really just started hitting its stride, and I didn’t want to suspend my upward mixology trajectory so soon. It was a distressing time for our protagonist.

Thanks for the dress @kespilman. Kitty-totaler Chisos approves. #boozekitty

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Our simple days of just booze and kittens are long gone….

Making someone a good drink is probably the most enjoyable thing about drinking. It’s a personalized gift that sets a mutual flavor backdrop for a dinner or conversation or Netflix bingewatch. A full bar and corresponding knowledge is like having access to a special atmosphere thermostat that you can tweak to such settings as “classy,” “exotic,” “robust,” or even the treacherous “tequila.”

The unfortunant thing about nonalcoholic drinks is that the vast majority of them are sickeningly sweet. Sugar in drinks exists largely to counter that earthy bite of booze, and every “mocktail” recipe I found had just cut out the flavorful alcoholic ingredients of  crowd-pleasing drinks, leaving you with an unbalanced cup of fruity pre-diabetes. I needed something to substitute for liquor, not just ways of ignoring its absence.

Your time will come again, old friend.

I took to the internet, clicking past the lists of Top 10 Drinks For Your Baby Shower!, and eventually found some drinks with some oomph: shrubs and switchels. They’re both vinegar-based drinks that were hugely popular in America in the 1700s but were slowly pushed back into obscurity as palettes and availability of mass-produced drinks changed. The shrub is roughly two parts flavored simple syrup and one part unfiltered vinegar, which yields a concentrated, full-flavored liquid. The switchel is basically a watered down shrub, with the addition of water to make it easily drinkable from the bottle.

I’ll be honest, the switchels I made were no good. Maybe there’s a time and place for them, but you can do a lot more with an interesting shrub base than just add a bunch of water. Seemed like a flavorless cop-out.

But the shrubs. They were the jackpot. They had the tang, the earthiness, the flavor complexity, and they substituted into drinks at basically a one-to-one ratio with alcohol. They were weird and interesting and infinitely customizable. It was love at first sip.

There are two basic types of shrub, a fruit shrub and an herb shrub, and the preparation method is fundamentally different. We can think of the fruit shrub as a “cold brew” and the herb shrub as a “hot brew”. This difference is because of the varying readiness of fruits versus herbs to yield their flavors and liquid to a simple syrup.

But the shrubs. They were the jackpot.

So, without further ado, shrubs! These recipes will yield about 32 oz, or an empty glass liter jar:

Fruit shrub (cold brew)

Suggestions: fig/balsalmic, peach/brown sugar

Mmmmm. Figgy.

One cup water

Cup and half of white sugar (optional: substitute up to a half cup with brown sugar)

2 cups of fruit

1 cup unfiltered apple cider vinegar (optional: substitute up to a half cup with balsalmic or white wine vinegar)


Empty 1 liter widemouth glass jar

Bring the water to a boil, stir in sugar until dissolved, remove from heat. You now have simple syrup.

Meanwhile, chop fruit. If you’ve ambitiously chosen a melon, stick it in a blender and strain out the pulp.

When the simple syrup has mostly cooled, pour it into the empty jar, drop the fruit in, and stick it in the fridge for at least 24 hours (the juicer the fruit, the shorter you’ll have to wait, less juicy will need more time).

Strain out fruit pieces, squeezing as much liquid as you can back into the jar.

Add unfiltered vinegar, seal and put in a cool dark place.

It is very important that your apple cider vinegar not be filtered. Unfiltered vinegar has something weirdly called “the mother”, basically bacterial cultures that cause very mild fermentation in the bottle (not unlike kombucha). This causes the flavors to mellow out over time, so although you can drink your brew immediately it’s best to wait about a week and let the mother do its work.

Congratulations, you’ve gone and made yourself a shrub! Now, if you want to mix it up a bit…

Herb shrub (hot brew)

Suggestions: ginger/lemon zest, thyme/balsalmic, almond/rosepetal

Two and cups water

Two cups white sugar

A few tablespoons of herbs (adjust based on strength)

1 cup unfiltered apple cider vinegar (optional: substitute up to a half cup with balsalmic or white wine vinegar)


Empty 1 liter widemouth glass jar

Bring the water to a boil, stir in sugar until dissolved, add herbs to taste.

Maintain a simmer, let cook for about 30 min, then remove from heat and allow to cool.

Strain out spices, add unfiltered vinegar, seal in empty jar and put in a cool dark place.

Theoretically you can “hot brew” fruit as well, but it doesn’t work as well because it will actually cook the fruit and alter the flavor pretty substantially. Unless you prefer the taste of boiled peaches to fresh peaches, in which case we will never see eye to eye.

Speaking of peaches, here’s a cocktail suggestion I call….

The Giant Peach

2 oz peach shrub (following cold-brew method above)

A couple of sage leaves

Tonic (I used Fever Tree Elderflower Tonic and it was excellent)

Half a lemon or lime

Frozen strawberries or peaches (optional)

Muddle the peach shrub with the sage in a cocktail shaker. Add citrus and ice, shake.

Strain into cocktail glass over ice or frozen fruit, top with tonic, garnish with sage leaf.



2 thoughts on “Shrubs: A Beacon of Light in the World of Boozeless Liquids for Your Pregnant Lady

  1. Awesome ideas! Your commitment to mixology is impressive. I especially liked learning that “the mother” is the thing in unfiltered vinegar that patiently works behind the scene to produce the final product. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

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