Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Book Review: Shrubs: An Old Fashioned Drink For Modern Times by Michael Dietsch


The world seems to be in the midst of an urban craft renaissance of sorts; you're as likely to see a young twenty-something knitting on the bus as you would the 60 year old next to them. Chicken coops are springing up in cities great and small far from the pastoral environs in which they are normally seen, and preservation, be it canning, pickling, or fermented foods are all the rage.

And it's that last part where the modern re-emergence of shrubs have been threatening to make a comeback for the past several years, just bubbling under the surface as the focus of multiple trend pieces and popping up on some of the more forward(or temporally backward) thinking bar menus you may have seen.

Well, if shrubs have been gliding by just under the radar up until now, with the recent release of Michael Dietsch's debut book, Shrubs: An Old Fashioned Drink For Modern Times, these tart wonders should prepare for their close-up, as they are poised to finally bask in the heady adoration of food and beverage enthusiasts everywhere.

Mr. Dietsch has done an excellent job of breaking the book into distinct sections, beginning with a well researched and very entertaining run through the origins of this mysterious drink, charting its humble beginnings as a flavored soft drink tablet to colonial standby and beyond. To say any more about the historical section would spoil the fun of discovering the serendipitous route of shrubs to our modern table for potential readers, so I'll move on to the more hands-on areas of the book.

A section of shrub recipes follows, both of the historical variety and more modern flavors which in my view do an excellent job of illustrating the overall arc of the world's taste in shrubs, beginning with colonial liquor based offerings that would have been enjoyed by no less than Benjamin Franklin, all the way to some ambitious savory offerings that certainly push at the boundaries of the more general straight up fruit based shrubs that have generally been more common up until this new modern revival of the drink.

Dietsch's excellent, easy to follow instructions are perfect for novices and experts alike, striking an almost conversational tone of an old friend walking you through the process and having a fun afternoon of it. An approachable tone and expert guidance are a must when teaching people about subjects in food and beverage when presenting a concept that is likely to be foreign to most people, and this book nails it.

Additional recipes for other drinks including cocktails and sodas utilizing the shrubs are also well-written and accompanied by really gorgeous photography all of which makes the reader thirst for more.

Speaking as someone who has been really dedicated to this craft for some time, and cares deeply about seeing this modern revival take hold, the publication of this book is both timely and vital. As one will see from reading the book, shrubs have had a long and storied history being the supporting actor in many a bar manual and cookbook over the past few centuries, but in all those years of flavoring bad booze, or seeing farmers and their families through long, parched summers of field work, shrub has quietly been around not drawing as much attention as flashier fare such as soda or alcohol.

As a cocktail enthusiast, I am thrilled with this modern era to be spoiled for choice with hundreds of books about libations to choose from, and all of those had to begin with the first book written specifically about the craft of bartending.

With the debut of Michael Dietsch's Shrubs, our craft has finally gotten the book its pedigree has rightfully earned, and I can only hope that we won't be waiting for another few centuries for more books of this quality on the subject to be made.

You can buy Mr. Dietsch's book Shrubs: An Old Fashioned Drink For Modern Times here.

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