The Healthy Cocktail Ingredient You Need to Try

The Healthy Cocktail Ingredient You Need to Try

Photo: Pond5

We all love a good cocktail but when your mojito is loaded with more sugar than a Snickers bar, it can leave you feeling blah. That’s why more bartenders are ditching simple syrup in favor of shrubs. Nope, we’re not talking about the bushes sitting in your front yard — but rather the latest ingredient taking the bar world by storm. “Shrubs are vinegar-based syrups you can use to flavor cocktails,” says Dean Feddaoui, head bartender at LILT Lounge at the EPIC Hotel in Miami, FL. “Back in the day, especially in Caribbean areas where there was no refrigeration, soaking fruit in vinegar was a way to preserve the fruit,” he explains. That conservation method is now reemerging in a way that will delight both your tastebuds and be kinder to your body.

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“A lot of people are trying to stay away from [added] sugar,” says Feddaoui. That’s inspired a surge of alternatives to sugar-based simple syrups. Shrubs sweeten your sips with fructose, or fruit’s natural sugar, rather than relying on sucrose, aka table sugar. “The vinegar releases the sweetness of the fruit, which then dilutes the vinegar’s acid a little bit,” says Feddaoui. “Also, the cocktail world is always looking for new, interesting things to do.” Translation: Serve up a shrub-based cocktail at your next party and you’ll be sure to impress any guests.

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How to DIY Your Own Shrubs

There are two main components to the healthiest shrubs: fruit and vinegar. That means whipping them up on your own is easy enough — but there are still a few shrub saboteurs you’ll want to avoid. “The most common mistake when making shrubs is not choosing fruits carefully,” says Feddaoui. The first thing to look for is sweetness. “You need the natural sweetness of the fruit itself to flavor the syrup,” says Feddaoui. In other words, if you’re going for an autumn-inspired fall drink, nix the Granny Smith Apples and opt for sweeter varieties like Gala instead.

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The ideal fruit for shrubs will be super ripe, because that hints at high water content. “The fruit needs to have enough water in it to swell with vinegar,” says Feddaoui. In addition to choosing fruits that explode with juice when you bite into them, be sure they explode with flavor, too. “If the fruit isn’t ripe enough, it may not have enough water or sweetness,” says Feddaoui. Strawberries are his favorite fruit for shrubs, but he’s also a fan of peaches, mangos, raspberries and blackberries.

It’s also important to reach for the right vinegar. Feddaoui suggests picking up white balsamic vinegar, champagne vinegar, or rice wine vinegar. “They have enough acidity to allow the fruit to express its flavor, but their pH levels aren’t high enough to overwhelm the sweetness,” he says.

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Even better: Shrubs are totally customizable. You can even experiment with adding herbs and spices you think would mix well with the other flavors. And while some recipes do call for sugar (like the options below), you don’t have to use it at all. You can opt for a natural sweetener like stevia or just cover two to three cups of chopped or crushed fruit with just enough vinegar to completely coat it, then refrigerate for two days, says Feddaoui. If the end result is too tart, sweeten it afterwards to suit your tastes.

Once you’ve got the hang of it, you can experiment with whichever fancy shrubs-based concoctions you dream up. But first, try these recipes from Kimpton Hotels & Restaurants to get you started.

Healthy Cocktail Shrubs: The Park Cocktail

Photo courtesy of Poste Modern Brasserie

The Park Cocktail Recipe

Courtesy of Poste Modern Brasserie at the Hotel Monaco, Washington D.C.

Shrub serves 4, cocktail serves 1

Ingredients

For the peach shrub:
2 medium, ripe yellow peaches
1 cup white sugar (optional)
.5 cup white wine vinegar

For the cocktail:
1.5 ounces Maker’s Mark bourbon
1 ounce peach shrub (recipe below)
1 ounce Dolin Blanc vermouth
4 ounces soda water
Dehydrated peach slices
Thyme sprigs

Preparation

  1. For the shrub: Dice peaches and combine with sugar.
  2. Cover and allow to rest for two days. Add vinegar, cover and allow to rest for two more days.
  3. Keep peach solids submerged under liquid to avoid molding.
  4. Strain out solids and use or refrigerate in a sealed container.
  5. For the cocktail: Combine all ingredients in a stemless wine glass.
  6. Quickly stir drink to incorporate all ingredients.
  7. Serve with ice and garnish with dehydrated peach slice and thyme sprigs.

Spoon Fight Cocktail Recipe

Courtesy of Outpost at the Goodland Hotel, Santa Barbara, California

Shrub serves 4, cocktail serves 1

Ingredients

For the bell pepper saffron shrub:
3 cups chopped red bell pepper
3 cups sugar (optional)
1 teaspoon Spanish saffron
18 ounces distilled white vinegar
6 ounces rice wine vinegar

For the cocktail:
1.5 ounces Sotol por Siempre
.5 ounce bell pepper saffron shrub (recipe below)
1 ounce fresh pineapple juice
1 dash habanero bitters
1 dash orange bitters
Rosemary sprigs

Preparation

  1. For the shrub: Put bell peppers and saffron in large plastic container and cover fully with sugar.
  2. Cover container and let sit 24 hours at room temperature, or until mixture has a syrup-like consistency.
  3. Stir well and add both vinegars, stirring until all the sugar is dissolved.
  4. Cover and let sit another 24 hours.
  5. Strain out solids and use or refrigerate in a sealed container.
  6. For the cocktail: Pour all ingredients into a shaker and shake with ice.
  7. Double strain into a small vintage cocktail glass. Garnish with a rosemary sprig balanced on the rim.
Healthy Cocktail Shrubs: The Pineapple Express

Photo courtesy Jsix

Pineapple Express Cocktail Recipe

Courtesy of Jsix at the Hotel Salomar in San Diego, California

Shrub serves 4, cocktail serves 1

Ingredients

For the pineapple habanero shrub:
2 cups diced pineapple
2 cups sugar
Equal parts apple cider vinegar
3 sliced habanero peppers

For the cocktail:
1 ounce pineapple habanero shrub (recipe below)
.5 ounce Gancia Americano
1.5 ounces Espolon Tequila
Pineapple chunks

Preparation

  1. For the shrub: Cover pineapple with sugar for two days.
  2. Stir and strain out fruit.
  3. Add equal parts apple cider vinegar to amount of juice.
  4. Add 3 sliced habanero peppers, cover with sugar for two days.
  5. Strain out solids and use or refrigerate in a sealed container.
  6. For the cocktail: Pour all ingredients into a shaker and shake with ice.
  7. Double strain into a rocks glass full of fresh ice.
  8. Garnish with a pineapple chunk.