Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Cocktail elixirs from Atlanta-based Shrub & Co.

Posted By on Tue, Dec 18, 2012 at 12:05 PM

Shrub & Co.

There's a new shrub in town. And I'm talking cocktails, not shrubbery. You'll be forgiven if you don't know what a shrub is, but haven't you been reading all the excited pronouncements of its ascension to cocktail prominence? The simplest definition and background I've found is this from CLASS magazine:

Shrub comes from the Arabic word 'sharaba', which means 'to drink'. The first mention of the word 'shrub' in the English Dictionary was in 1747, which defined it as "any of various acidulated beverages made from the juice of fruit, sugar, and other ingredients often alcohol."

Which brings us to Shrub & Co., which is a company, dedicated to making delicious shrubs. Shrub & Co. was founded by a small group of Atlanta bartenders and cocktail enthusiast friends who wanted to reinvigorate the use of shrubs in the "libationary arts."

They started out by partnering with a number of bartenders around town to play with the recipes and how they might best be integrated into finished drinks, both classic and new. Those bartenders included Justin Hadaway (Cibo e Beve), Kevin Ryan (Local Three), Patrick Swanson (5 Seasons at the Prado), and Arianne Fielder (formerly at Bourbon Bar, now at Seven Lamps). The tinkering clearly worked, as you can find drinks using Shrub & Co.'s products at most of these bars now. Cibo e Beve actually has a trio of shrub cocktails on the menu right now, including a great one called the Johnny Utah that plays a spicy ginger shrub and almost-as-spicy High West Double Rye off the sweet-bitter-floral-herbal notes of Cocchi Americano.

Shrub & Co. has three main offerings that home cocktail fans can buy -Tart Apple, Spicy Ginger, and Grapefruit - though the seasons will dictate additions to the line. Each one is handcrafted in small batches, using fresh organic fruits (or ginger) cold-pressed to best retain flavor, along with organic vinegar and organic cane sugar. I asked Fielder to describe the appeal of these for bartenders, and she mentioned both the quality of the preparations and the fact that they are quite time consuming to make if you want to start with fresh fruit.

Andy Minchow, who made his name at Holeman & Finch and is working on a new bar to open up in early 2013, also mentioned the appeal of using a local artisan producer like Shrub & Co., saying "they just use the best, organic ingredients they can get. It's honest. Anything that lets home bars or bartenders spend more time playing with and enjoying quality cocktails rather than laboring over prep is a good thing. And shrubs go back to the 1800's in America, so it's another way to connect with the classics. The vinegar acidity is a great alternative to the typical lemon or lime juice that so many cocktails turn to."

Shrub & Co. was kind enough to provide a few samples for me to taste and play with, and they really offer some intriguing uses, working well with a variety of spirits, sparkling wine, or even beers with the right flavor profile.

The Tart Apple shrub provides an incredibly bright burst of tart-sour-sweet tongue-tingling apple flavor, with the vinegar clearly present, but serving more to amplify the flavors of the apple than stand out on its own. It's made with Braeburn and Jonagold apples, and plays especially nicely with bourbon. When I spoke with Minchow, he threw out the idea of mixing it with Scotch and Cynar, which I did, and it made for an impressively balanced and layered cocktail, with a smoky pucker (that's a good thing).

Shrub & Co.'s Grapefruit shrub feels a bit more syrupy and less vinegary than the Apple, with the sweetness of the ruby red hitting your tongue first, then the grapefruit and vinegar acidity coming on strong in the finish. It makes fast friends with tequila or mezcal, and I also tried pairing it with riesling and Cointreau for an interesting kinda-sorta-white sangria that went over well with friends.

Spicy Ginger is the thickest and most assertive of the three shrubs (and my favorite), both in the spiciness of the ginger and in the overall acidic thump on the tongue. You can try it with gin and lemon juice in a Gin Gin Fizz, or go back to bourbon in place of the traditional ginger ale pairing. I made a fabulous cocktail this past weekend with some spice-infused bourbon, cinnamon simple syrup, and the ginger shrub mix (1 part for every 3 parts bourbon), topped off with a touch of club soda. The ginger here is much deeper and fresher than that you can find in a ginger liqueur or ginger beer off the shelf.

If you want to play with these yourself at home, you can order them online at www.shrubandco.com. The labels include some cocktail suggestions, and the website offers even more. Be warned - artisan, cold-pressed mixers like these do not come cheap. Each 16-oz. bottle runs $21.99, or you can get a pack of the three different flavors for $61.99. Oh, and if you decide that cocktail shrubs aren't your thing, you can always use them in cooking, too. These shrubs are essentially fruit gastriques that can brighten up a sauce, and acidic enough to make the base for a flavorful vinaigrette. Shrub away.

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