Shrubs add depth to cocktails, and make for less kitchen waste

Monkey 68's Xoxo Ox stirs together bourbon, St. Germain, Cynar, lime juice and a refreshing shrub made from cucumber.

Combined ShapeCaption
Monkey 68's Xoxo Ox stirs together bourbon, St. Germain, Cynar, lime juice and a refreshing shrub made from cucumber.

While the appearance of shrubs on cocktail menus might seem like a recent thing, what are also known as “drinking vinegars” date back centuries. The word “shrub” comes from the Arabic sharbah, meaning “a drink.”

During the 17th and 18th centuries, shrubs became even more popular when mixed with liquor, usually rum or wine, plus the addition of sugar or honey. Shrubs also were common as a way to preserve fruit, but the advent of refrigeration meant vinegar no longer was needed for that, and so shrubs fell out of favor.

Nowadays, shrubs are back, and enhancing cocktail menus. Essentially a condiment (the bar’s equivalent of an agrodolce or gastrique in the kitchen), shrubs provide a fruit-forward flavor boost with a balance of sweet and tart. As a bonus, shrubs provide a level of sustainability for kitchens, with the production of these vinegar-based syrups reducing food waste.

At Miller Union, which supports local farmers and is dedicated to seasonal ingredients, Executive Chef Steven Satterfield, a co-owner, aims to utilize every part of a fruit or vegetable, even in the bar. Lead bartender Evan Sewell finds creative ways to implement lesser-used parts into her cocktail program.

ExploreAtlanta Orders In: Miller Union finds new ways of doing fine dining
Combined ShapeCaption
Miller Union lead bartender Evan Sewell uses fruit, herbs, vinegar and sugar in a shrub that imparts fruitiness and tang to cocktails. Courtesy of Miller Union

Credit: Handout

Miller Union lead bartender Evan Sewell uses fruit, herbs, vinegar and sugar in a shrub that imparts fruitiness and tang to cocktails. Courtesy of Miller Union

Credit: Handout

Combined ShapeCaption
Miller Union lead bartender Evan Sewell uses fruit, herbs, vinegar and sugar in a shrub that imparts fruitiness and tang to cocktails. Courtesy of Miller Union

Credit: Handout

Credit: Handout

“It’s a pleasure collaborating with Evan, because she thinks like a chef when it comes to ingredients,” Satterfield said. “We often find ourselves chatting on the sidelines about possible castoffs that can be turned into flavor, like herb stems, peach pits, strawberry tops or other items that would normally be headed toward the compost bin.”

ExploreMiller Union chef Steven Satterfield shares tips to cut down on food waste

Sewell said she uses the peach pits from the kitchen “with a little bit of meat on them,” and then adds herbs or spices, along with different vinegars, “to make a great sweet and sour component to use in drinks, or as a drink by itself.”

She mixes a nonalcoholic version with soda water, and changes ingredients, depending on what the kitchen is using. “We try to be as low-waste as possible,” she said.

Sewell’s shrubs follow the basic 1:1:1 ratio of fruit, sugar and vinegar, for vibrant flavor, tang and, most of all, fruity essence. Her latest liquid treasure is fermenting now, and soon will bring an added dimension to a peach cocktail at Miller Union.

999 Brady Ave. NW, Atlanta. 678-733-8550, millerunion.com

ExploreChefs’ ideas can help home cooks turn garbage into edible gold
Combined ShapeCaption
Monkey 68's Charming Snake cocktail is sweet and smoky, with a kick from a house-made blackberry-peppercorn shrub. Courtesy of Monkey 68

Credit: Handout

Monkey 68's Charming Snake cocktail is sweet and smoky, with a kick from a house-made blackberry-peppercorn shrub. Courtesy of Monkey 68

Credit: Handout

Combined ShapeCaption
Monkey 68's Charming Snake cocktail is sweet and smoky, with a kick from a house-made blackberry-peppercorn shrub. Courtesy of Monkey 68

Credit: Handout

Credit: Handout

At Monkey 68, owner and bar manager Mali Hsu uses shrubs in many of her cocktails.

“I like to use natural and fresh flavors, and shrubs give a sour and fruity depth to a drink, making it more complex,” she said. Hsu’s Xoxo Ox, named after a Chinese zodiac animal, incorporates a cucumber shrub, bourbon, Cynar amaro, elderflower liqueur and lime juice.

“It’s refreshing, instead of fruity,” Hsu said.

Hsu’s cocktails achieve a delicate balance, with bitter components coming from an amaro and fruit, and tartness and spice imparted by house-made shrubs. Her Aka Mickey uses a ginger shrub mixed with rye whiskey, apple liqueur, hibiscus bitters and lime. In the Charming Snake, smoky mezcal is balanced by the black cherry essence in Luxardo and brightness from lime juice. A shrub using blackberry and peppercorn brings a tart heat, which is emphasized further with an edible garnish of a yellow Szechuan button.

Her white peach shrub is undergoing fermentation. It will be mixed with Taiwanese whiskey and garnished with a broiled peach slice.

“Shrubs make everything more flavorful,” Hsu said.

1073 Green St., Roswell. 770-587-3277, monkey68atl.com

ExploreMore cocktail news
ExploreThe ultimate guide to pizza in Atlanta

Sign up for the AJC Food and Dining Newsletter

Read more stories like this by liking Atlanta Restaurant Scene on Facebook, following @ATLDiningNews on Twitter and @ajcdining on Instagram.