Rosemary Grape Shrub

It's Concord grape season in California farmer's markets! Yay! Well, sort of. The Concord grape is a problem for most of us these days. Doesn't it know that we've all grown to prefer- expect even- seedless grapes? What are we supposed to do with these beautiful dark purple grapes full of seeds? People suggest jelly but jelly is a huge headache and, frankly, it's too hot outside. I'm not as hardworking as our forebears and I can't make jelly in this heat. But a cocktail? Now we're talking. 

A shrub is a kind of cocktail or drink made by mixing a vinegar-spiked fruit syrup with carbonated water and, if desired, alcohol. Legend has it that this type of drink was popular in the Colonial era here in the U.S. If you feel inclined, the history of the drink is pretty interesting. 

I first heard about a shrub almost ten years ago, from a sweet woman named Karen, who worked at Rialto Restaurant in Boston as a line cook with me. She gave me her own shrub recipe to try- I believe it was raspberry. I never tried it, but I still have it, and if this shrub goes down well, I'll post that one, too. In any case, it's sad it's taken me ten years to try a shrub. 

Shrubs are really easy to make ahead so that you look like a summer cocktail master in front of all your friends. Better yet, they're more complex than a simple syrup, and they have endless possibilities. You can add herbs, different vinegars, and different alcohols. 

This one is grape, with an apple cider vinegar, and gin. The original recipe from Bon Appetit suggests vodka but I prefer the gin because it's naturally more herbacious, and goes well with the rosemary. Also, Ventura Spirits right here in California makes a tasty gin with the most beautiful label. If you're in Los Angeles, you should definitely seek it out and support your nearby distillery. If you're a vodka person, I'll question your taste a little but, by all means, follow your palate. 

About the rosemary. It's possible rosemary has become a little too omnipresent in our cuisine. Rosemary olive oil cake, rosemary cookies, rosemary olive bread. It's everywhere! However, in this case, I really loved the rosemary. Without it, the drink just tasted sweet. With it, it all came together better; it was more complex, more of a cocktail than a grape soda if you know what I mean. But, you could also skip it, or add some lime wedges or fruit as a garnish. 

Also, I think this syrup would make a great homemade soda with the addition of some club soda and maybe a little lime. No alcohol required. 

Rosemary Grape Shrub

Makes enough syrup for 8 shrubs- the original recipe is doubled here because who wants to run out of syrup in the middle of a party?

Adapted from Bon Appetit Magazine

Ingredients:

  • 2 cups Concord grapes
  • 2/3 cup of sugar
  • 16-20 rosemary sprigs
  • 4 ounces apple cider vinegar
  • To finish: you'll need 2 oz gin or vodka and 6 oz club soda for each cocktail that you're planning to make

Instructions: 

  1. Bring grapes, sugar, and 1 cup water to boil in a stainless steel or other non-aluminum pot, stirring to dissolve sugar. Reduce heat and simmer until reduced to 1 cup, 12-15 minutes. Strain grape syrup into a jar or measuring cup and set aside to cool. Also, marvel at its bright purple color. When cool, add in the vinegar. (note: this is a big change from the original recipe, but I like the way the flavors mix and mingle when this sits in the fridge overnight or over a week or two all mixed with the vinegar. Originally, a shrub syrup included the vinegar.)
  2. For each cocktail combine four rosemary leaves, 2 oz gin or vodka, and 2 ounces syrup. If you happen to have a muddler, muddle the rosemary a little in the bottom of the shaker. Then, shake with ice and strain into a rocks glass filled with ice. Add 2-3 ounces of club soda and enjoy.