Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Arbustum Interruptus

Hello readers. I know I was doing quite well with a more regular posting schedule there for a bit, but unfortunately some pressing personal matters have been distracting me for the last few weeks. On the upside, we are coming up on summer which is the prime season for making shrubs, so I should hopefully have some new material coming up in addition to some of the shrubs from last year I haven't had the chance to tell you about yet.

I promise I will be back to a regular posting schedule soon, but in the meantime, are there any topics in particular that you would love to read about? Techniques, flavors, etc? Let me know in the comments, and I will do my best to work those questions in with the normal content. I really love hearing from people!

See you soon,

Alex K


JD said...

Hi Alex,

Came across your blog. I am in the process of making a nectarine and a grape shrub. I was planning on using a 1:1:1 ratio of fruit to sugar to champagne vinegar. I am new to this so am somewhat hesitant to use that much vinegar. How much do you usually use?


Alexander Kern said...


Good to hear from you. Figuring out the fruit/vinegar ratio can be tricky in the beginning, which is why most people begin with a 1:1:1 ratio. It might end up a little bit sweet, but it definitely will be in the right neighborhood.

When you want to branch out into other ratios, the amount of vinegar will completely depend on your other two ingredients. While equal parts of vinegar may sound like a lot, keep in mind that you are adding an acidic element to balance two other sources of sugar, one being from the fruit, and the other from your actual sugar.

Depending on how sweet your fruit is, the type of sugar you are using, and the type of vinegar, you may want to make other adjustments. I don't know how sharp the champagne vinegar you are using is, but if it is particularly acidic, I might suggest bumping the fruit or sugar up, unless you like that sort of acidic tang. Grapes and nectarines have a ton of natural sugar, so my guess is that the amount of vinegar is probably good for this.

My other advice is to taste, taste, taste! If you find that the mixture seems off after you add the vinegar, do make adjustments to either the fruit or the sugar. It's not too late.

Another option is doing the normal cold process method with the amount of sugar and fruit you're going to use, and when you get to the point where you're going to pour in the vinegar, do it in small increments, tasting after each one. You can always put more vinegar in, but you can't take it out.

One last thing to keep in mind is that while the initial mixture may taste really strong, when you bottle it and let it sit for a week, a lot of the stronger vinegar flavors will mellow and blend with the other flavors, so don't be too discouraged if it smells really strong after you put it in. Make sure you agitate your mixture daily, and above all, have fun experimenting. It's taken me a year to learn a lot of these techniques, so enjoy the process.

Let me know how it turns out or if you have any other questions!

JD said...


Thanks so much for the quick and detailed response.

I did have one more question. the nectarine shrub seems to be coming aloing nicely that is there is some juice in the jar and some sugar at the bottom.

The grape jar however seems to be frozen. I see no juice, just grapes and sugar. I used a cup of muddled grapes which I muddled and then a cup of sugar. Is it possible that all the juice is being absorbed by the sugar? Do I need to add more grapes or perhaps leave it at room temperature for a bit or should I just wait a few more days (It's been 2 days since I started it)?


Alexander Kern said...


Thanks for writing again. So my first question is regarding the grape shrub. Does the sugar seem really granulated still, or does it look kind of wet and syrupy?

If the answer is wet and syrupy, it is on the right track. I noticed you mention muddling the grapes separately and adding it to the sugar. What I like to do is actually put the fruit in first, then add the sugar on top and muddle them together. One reason it is kind of nice is that the sugar is kind of gritty and abrasive, which really gets a nice syrupy paste going.

I usually like to let that mixture sit in the fridge for about five or six hours because that sugar will draw more juice out as it sits. When that time is up, that is when I pour in the vinegar and give the whole thing a nice stir to get everything incorporated. Then I leave that for a week, shaking it daily.

When a week passes, I double strain the liquid into a Pyrex measuring vessel with a handle(something like you might warm syrup up in) and then get a funnel. I like my shrub to be ultra clear,so I also put a tea strained in the funnel before I pour the shrub in a bottle. I let that sit another week, and all the flavors meld together and the strong vinegar flavors mellow out.

Are you planning to do the version where the fruit and sugar meld for a week and you add the vinegar last? I have seen that done as well. I kind of prefer putting it in towards the beginning because you can get a sense of whether you may need to make adjustments before you get too far into the process, but everyone has a method they feel comfortable with,

Sorry, got a bit off track there. As far as the grapes go, I would say to stir it around to see if it's still grainy. If it seems moist, just keep doing what you're doing. If not, you may want to try to add the vinegar and try it the way I suggested.

Hopefully that helps. Please let me know if I can help some more. I love answering reader questions!

JD said...


Again really appreciate you taking the time to answer.

The sugar is kind of lumpy and the grapes look dry. I was reading through your earlier posts and it seems you do equal proportions by weight. I did equal proportions by volume (1 cup each), could that be the problem?

I will try your method of adding the vinegar to the jar and shaking every day for a week and then straining. The nectarine mix is ready for some vinegar so will try that first. Will definitely let you know how it comes out.

There is a farmer's market this saturday so can't wait to get some more fresh fruit.


Alexander Kern said...

Hello again.

I don't think that volume vs weight would yield disastrous results, but I think that if you weigh everything, it's a lot more accurate in the end.

I kind of wonder if the reason the grapes aren't working quite as well as I would imagine is because the sugar and fruit didn't have that interaction early on where the juice from the mashed grapes would seep directly onto the sugar, especially if they didn't get mixed together too thoroughly after the muddled grapes went in.

On your next batch of shrub, I would be interested to see if your results are different if you use my method from start to finish. I've only really made it this way, so it's interesting for me to hear about how other people go about it.

If you don't mind my asking, what region of the country are you in? I only ask because I love hearing about people's access to different fruits and things that might not be as common here in Washington state. Do you have a fruit in mind for your next project?

In any case, please do let me know how your projects go, as it is a lot of fun hearing other people's experience with this amazing drink.

JD said...


So the problem was that the grapes were not muddled enough. While I had quartered the nectarines and there was enough exposed surface area for the juice to come out I had muddled the grapes very gently because for some reason I thought it was better for the sugar to extract the juices.

I came home today and muddled with a vengeance and sure enough the juices came out.

I also went to the best craft cocktail bar in town today and asked the bartenders there for tips and they do what you do. they said they like to "pickle" it by adding the vinegar at the beginning and letting it sit for about 2 weeks.

So I went and added vinegar. I followed your suggestion and added half the vinegar to my star student the nectarine mix. I don't know if its just me but I actually liked the strong taste of the vinegar in there. As a result I put in a whole one cup to the grape mixture and to me it tasted great. I plan to let both sit for a week and possibly add another half vinegar to the nectarine mix and let both mixtures sit for 1 or 2 more weeks before straining. I do like it enough already to feel the need to invest in some more jars.

If I wake up in time tomorrow I will go exploring at the farmers market. I live in Rhode Island. My knowledge of produce is limited so I don't know what fruits would be unique to the area. I would love to do apple and mango. I emailed Michael Dietsch as well and he said one of the best shrubs he had tasted was a beet and lemon one at a store in New York. Do you think apples would yield enough juice for a shrub? also do you think I should mash the nectarines? I am currently letting the sugar do all the work.


Alexander Kern said...


Excellent news! I am happy to hear you already like the flavors even at this stage. I have a feeling you are really in for a treat when all of those amazing flavors meld together.

So to address some of your questions, first, a big yes to muddling the nectarines. Really with any fruit it is best to muddle it with the sugar, because of the reaction between the juice and sugar is so much faster and does a much more thorough job of integrating the two ingredients.

I don't know him personally, but from reading him for a while I can tell you Mr. Dietsch is a brilliant man, and he is super knowledgeable. I think the beet and lemon shrub was from a deli in NYC called Russ and Daughter. There are interesting articles online about it and are a good read.

I have not made a mango shrub, but my friends keep asking me to, so maybe this summer I might finally do it. I can tell you from experience that not only can you use apples, they make amazing shrubs. If you check my blog, read about the 3 Faces Of Eve sometime. It is basically a shrub meant to taste like apple pie. I made a second one I haven't written about that tastes like mulled cider. Both are excellent...

I would say if you can get fresh apples and mangoes, go for it!

Keep the questions coming, I love it!

JD said...

You know what might go well. Chat masala with a lychee shrub. Both ingredients are somewhat hard to find though.

Alexander Kern said...


I like where you are going, my friend. You might consider putting that idea together with another good idea you shared with me of doing mango. In India, I have heard that a popular street snack is mango with chaat masala. So what if you did a mango/chaat masala shrub?

Lychee might also be good with that, but I think it might be kind of awesome to do a straight up lychee shrub since they kind of have a delicate flavor.

In any case, I really like how you are thinking right now. It shows that you're beginning to think outside the box in terms of your flavors.

Great work, I am very excited to hear more about what else you come up with!

Alexander Kern said...

Also, you can order chat masala from World Spice Merchants over the Internet. I live in Seattle and go to the actual store and they are great people with amazing product. I have only used their herbs and spices in my shrubs with a couple of exceptions, and I cannot recommend them enough.

John Davies said...

My girlfriend and I are cutting back on alcohol this summer. So
I've been making shrubs for a month now. Your blog has been so helpful. So far:


In process:

apple pie (apple, cinnamon, cloves, brown sugar)
tropical (pineapple, coconut, muscovado sugar, coconut vinegar)

So far all have been good. But I'm working towards great.