Jalapeño Shrub Cocktail

ShrubDMProposed by: David

Reviewed by: Jonathan

When Jonathan and I revived this project, we decided on two types of entries—re-posts and new posts. I did not count on my dim memory. In my mind, this cocktail recipe employing a shrub was supposed to be a new post. All week, however, I’ve been fighting a sense of deja écrit, and it turns out I was right.

Sigh. I’m not going to go through the amusing and interesting facts about shrubs that my earlier self mastered and forgot mastering. The highlights are as follows:

  1. A shrub is a mixture of fruit juice, spices, and vinegar.
  2. Shrub is from the Arabic sharāb, which means “to drink,” and also gives us “sherbet” and “syrup” as metathetic variants, though I no longer can recall what metathetic variants are.
  3. Around since at least the 15th century, shrubs include vinegar as a way of preserving fruit juices, and people once saw them as medicinal.
  4. Some people just add shrubs to club soda, no alcohol.
  5. Shrubs are hip.

I think I might have saved 350 words there.

Jonathan and I had a text exchange earlier this week, though, that did make me see shrubs in a new light. He reminded me that some nutritionists describe vinegar as “jogging in a jug” because it apparently activates an enzyme called AMPK that encourages the body to burn fat, particularly the sort of fat that surrounds organs as you grow older. Before you go out to buy a gallon of apple cider vinegar, I should also say that Jonathan thinks the sugar in a shrub might nullify any benefit the vinegar might offer… and then there’s the gin.

Anyway, the best reason for making a shrub—or drinking vinegar, for that matter—is because you like the taste. Not everyone will. The sweet and sour is a little strange, and, as the particular recipe we tried included jalapeño and basil, it may seem even stranger. It’s not my job to write the review this week, so I’ll keep my position on shrubs to myself for now. I will say that adding shrubs creates cocktails just as identifiable and distinctive as ones that feature eggs… though very different… if that makes any sense.

Jalapeño Shrub Cocktail:

For the shrub…

  • 2 cups blueberries
  • 1 cup granulated sugar
  • 2 large jalapeños, thinly sliced
  • 1 cup apple cider vinegar
  • .25 cup basil leaves
  • .25 teaspoon coriander powder

For the cocktail

  • 1 ounce shrub
  • 1.5 ounces gin
  • 2 ounces soda
  • Lime for garnish (though you could use jalapeño, of course)

Making this shrub is a little complicated, so read to the end to get a sense of the whole process. FIRST you create a mash with the fruit, the jalapeños and sugar and leave that for 48 hours. At the same time, SEPARATELY, combine the other ingredients. THEN, after the 48 hours, strain both the fruit mixture and the vinegar mixture and combine them.

The cocktail recipe itself says to combine the ingredients in a glass with ice, but you might notice from my photo above that instead I put everything (except the soda!) in a shaker and added the soda last.

And Here’s Jonathan’s Review:


The first time we tried a cocktail using a shrub in 2015, I disparaged “Jogging in a Jug.” That drinking vinegar (same as a shrub) was popular years ago but then disappeared after the makers were accused of making false health claims. Now research shows there are benefits from ingesting vinegar that may include increased metabolism, blood sugar improvements, heart health, and maybe even skin health.

I recently read How Not to Diet by Dr. Michael Greger. That book is a thorough review of nutritional studies and vinegar is among the items for which he finds evidence of tangible benefits. I need to be quick to add that sugar and alcohol are not on his beneficial list although capsaicin the chemical compound found in hot peppers is. Capsaicin is noted for activating brown fat. Since this is a drink blog, I will simply say that is a good thing.

My version of this cocktail included a strawberry shrub, lime juice, and an American Dry gin, Conniption, which is made in Durham, North Carolina. The shrub itself was made from the instructions in David’s recommended recipe with local strawberries instead of blueberries. The coriander and basil did not come through, but the jalapeño was very present. In fact, that background mild spice and the subtly infused gin were the highlights of the drink. I thought going in that tequila or mezcal would be a better choice of spirit, but I can’t see how either would complement the shrub better than the Conniption.

Jonathan’s take: Who knew that a vinegar based cocktail could be so good – and good for you too!

David’s take: I generally like shrub cocktails and frequently order then when I’m out… I just wonder about this one, which with the shrub… and basil… and jalapeño… and gin isn’t just a little TOO busy.

Our Re-take Next Time (proposed by David): In my proposals, I hesitate to insist Jonathan go out and buy a spirit long gone, but, nonetheless, I’d like to revisit the Amazonia, which features cachaça AND sparkling wine. A spirit that has become one of my favorites, cachaça lends every cocktail a tropical feel for me, and when is sparkling wine ever a bad idea?

The Vesper

20140208_175743_resizedProposed by: Jonathan

Reviewed by: David

There are a few themes to our cocktail choices. Not surprisingly for novices, we have tried a number of classics like last week’s Manhattan. The most common cocktail glass choice has been some variation on the coupe. Odd liqueurs, fortified wines and herbals have all become more commonplace in our combined bars. Cocktails are best matched to the correct setting and situation. Finally, there has been a literary lean in the choices that has included a nod to Hemingway that lead to the author of a book on his drinks visiting and commenting on this site.

This week’s cocktail, the Vesper, combines many of those themes. The drink’s origin, at least the undisputed part, is Ian Fleming’s first James Bond book Casino Royale. It is a variation on the classic martini served in a coupe. The ingredients are gin, vodka and a fortified wine, Kina Lillet, so obscure that it is no longer made although there are recommendations for a substitute.

The recipe that I used is very close to one recommended by Ted Haigh as translated from 007’s precise instructions to a bartender:

3 parts gin (Gordon’s for Bond but Boodles in this case based on Haigh’s recommendation)
1 part vodka (Tito’s since it is grain based which I will explain below)
½ part Lillet Rose’ (Blanc is one substitute, Cocchi Americano another)
Twist of lemon as garnish

Combine liquids, shake with ice (to make sure it is very cold and perhaps slightly diluted by the melt), strain and garnish with the twisted lemon rind.

James Bond dictated the recipe to the bartender in a casino bar. He then tasted it and was so satisfied he decided it would later need a proper naming. His only quibble, consistent with the discernment associated with the character, was that a grain-based vodka would be an improvement over the potato based one the bartender used. That was splitting hairs by Bond’s own assessment, although he used a French expression (“mais n’enculons pas des mouches”) that is much more colorful than splitting hairs. I’ll leave the translation to everyone’s Google skills.

This is a drink that needs a scene like that painted by the author Fleming. He placed it in the casino bar as Bond meets his CIA counterpart, Felix Leiter, for the first time. I felt like it was most appropriate for the waning daylight hours of a warm day. Perfect for sipping while the light slipped away and the cool of the night wandered in.

photo 2-16Here’s David’s Review:

I’m no martini man, classic or otherwise. I’ve had a few—surprisingly many for a person who has never acquired a taste for them—but perhaps I’m simply not dry enough or droll enough or sophisticated enough or just too coarse. I would be the worst Bond ever, worse than Timothy Dalton and much worse than George Lazenby. Gin is wonderful, vodka is—to my taste-buds—flavorless whether it’s grain, potato, or kitchen refuse, and Lillet (I used Blanc) seems quite pleasant. Lemon is good too.

Still, bringing the coupe to my lips and greeted by that familiar solvent smell, I had to hope their sum would be greater than the parts. My experience with martini-type drinks leads me to expect the initial burn of ethanol and the secondary warmth of nearly instant inebriation.

Okay, that’s not so bad, but it’s also not the sort of encounter I seek. Is it wrong to want a more disguised purpose?

The Vesper needed slow and steady sipping and very careful savoring. I tried to detect the separate components and monitor their influences on one another. I invoked all my senses as everyone tells me to and awaited the lift that invariably arrives after the first few swallows.

Still, here’s my verdict: I’m sorry.

Before you sigh and huff, Martini lovers, I want you to know it’s me. One of the only Latin phrases I know by heart is “De gustibus non est disputandum,” or “There’s no disputing matters of taste.” I’m not giving up on martinis—quite the contrary, I mean to figure out at last what others see in them—but I can’t pretend. I’d rather have bourbon on the rocks.

But, hey, a silver lining: I’ve made friends with the spirits expert at my local Plum Market, and she persuaded me to try a different (read: more expensive) type of vodka, Karlsson’s Gold, which is refined exactly once. Most distillers create vodkas refined over and over to the point of clear and clean consistency, but this one actually has a sort of flavor softer than you’d expect, if you can understand that. Granted, it’s potato and not grain (as Bond prefers) and didn’t redeem this drink for me, but it was a good discovery, something I can look forward to using again.

Jonathan’s take: Completely mixed reviews in my household on this one. It is definitely for martini lovers and demands the right setting.

David’s take: It’s me. It’s me. Martinis are just not my thing.

Next Week (proposed by David):

I’ve been feeling guilty about making my brother wander the planet in search of Aquavit and have been thinking about ways to make his search worthwhile. I’ve decided on a cocktail called A Sling of Sorts #2, which seems to me suitably arcane, involving simple syrup, port, and seltzer. As we turn toward spring (a Chicagoan can hope, can’t he?), the light character of this drink might be welcome….