It's time now for another seasonal update on cocktail trends from the Orange Door bar. Spring is here earlier than usual in our corner of New England this year, and I am so very ready to soak up the evening sun on our back deck with a drink in my hand. Last month, we hosted a "Something Pickled" supper club in which every course on our menu featured an item that was, you guessed it, pickled, fermented, or somehow made better by vinegar. Our signature cocktail for the event showcased how a deliciously tart shrub, or sweetened vinegar-based syrup, can elevate your spring and summer drink-mixing game to a whole new level. Shrubs, also arcanely known as "drinking vinegars," had their heyday in American colonial times but are making their way back into our drinking lexicon as craft mixologists look to history for inspiration. The sweet-and-sour taste of a good shrub adds depth and complexity to a cocktail, but has to be handled with caution (and perhaps a bit of trial and error) because it does not play overly well with citrus juice (it's already quite sour) or sweet liqueur (it's already quite sweet.) A safe and tasty way to build a shrub cocktail is to start with a base spirit, add your shrub, layer in a complimentary liqueur, and then finish with bitters (see "The Shrubbery" recipe below). Or, for those who prefer refreshing simplicity as the weather warms up, a small amount of shrub mixes easily with vermouth or sherry over ice topped with club soda. And, depending on your crowd, the Knights Who Say Ni will thank you for making shrubs a thing again this year.
Featuring Homemade Apple Fennel Rhubarb Shrub
To make the Apple Fennel Rhubarb Shrub, combine 2/3 c chopped Rhubarb, 2/3 c chopped Apple, 2/3 c chopped Fennel, and 2 c Sugar in a bowl and toss to coat. Allow the mixture to sit uncovered for 1 hour, then give the produce a good smash a potato masher. Cover and let sit for 48 hours (room temp is fine), mashing once or twice more.
Stir 1 1/4 c White Wine Vinegar and 3/4 c Apple Cider Vinegar into the fruit and sugar mixture and place in the refrigerator, covered, for 7-9 days, stirring once a day until the shrub is done.
Strain the mixture through a cheesecloth lined sieve and transfer to a clean jar or container. Store in the fridge until ready to serve. Your shrub will keep in the refrigerator for up to a month.
To make The Shrubbery Cocktail, combine 1 1/2 oz Vodka, 3/4 oz Lillet Blanc, 3/4 oz Campari, 3/4 oz Apple Fennel Rhubarb Shrub, 1/2 oz Zucca Rabarbaro (or Cynar), 1/2 t Fresh Lemon Juice, and 3 dashes Coffee Pecan Bitters in a mixing glass. Add a couple of handfuls of ice and stir for 15-30 seconds, or until the mixture is cold. Strain into a chilled coupe or cocktail glass and garnish with a lemon twist that has been rubbed around the rim of the glass.