The Knights Who Say Nehi: Concord Grape Shrub

Roger the Shrubber
“Yes, shrubberies are my trade. I am a shrubber. My name is Roger the Shrubber. I arrange, design and sell shrubberies.”

No romantic childhood memories in the lede this week, unless you count the Monty Python film festival my college pal, Becky, and I binged on in 1983 at London’s Barbican Centre.

Nope, I’m a newbie.

I’d never even heard of shrubs when Bryn brought a blackberry version to a Mann Center picnic a few years back. Then, at a Philly Food Swappers event last December, I scored two jars of cranberry shrub in exchange for a big tin of spiced nuts and brittles. Until a couple weeks ago, though, I’d never made one myself.

But a few days post CSA, I still had two quart-sized cartons of raggedy Concord grapes that were fast approaching the use-them-or-lose-them inflection point. They were beyond eating out of hand (and beyond, even, that crazy grilled cheese sandwich), so why not try a shrub?

Popular in 17th-century England and Colonial America, shrubs are basically sweet-and-sour mixers—fruit preserved with sugar and vinegar—that can be enjoyed alone or with seltzer (or in a cocktail or punch, of course). Apparently, they’re having a bit of a renaissance, thanks to the craft-cocktail trend, and, I suspect, the popularity of the SodaStream home carbonators.

After a little online research, it all seemed pretty easy. (1) Make a fruit-infused syrup by macerating fruit with sugar. (2) Acidulate the syrup by mixing in vinegar. (3) Let it hang out for a week or two to cure.

Superb. Lightly sweet, with a refreshing zap of acidity, obviously. I’ve now made two batches (one with white wine vinegar, one with cider vinegar). Loved them both, mostly as a soft drink, but I’m experimenting with the shaker, too. The cider version, predictably, is a little rounder, but the zing is still there. Use whichever you’ve got on hand.

Concord Grape Shrub

Makes 1-1/2 pints and will keep, refrigerated, for up to a year. 

  • 3 cups Concord grapes, washed and destemmed
  • 3/4 cup granulated sugar
  • 1 tbsp Turbinado sugar
  • about 1-1/2 cups white wine vinegar (I also made a batch with apple cider vinegar, but reduced the granulated sugar to 2/3 cup)

1. Toss the grapes with the sugar. Using a potato masher or the back of a spoon, lightly mash the grapes. Concords are a “slip-skin” variety, so don’t be surprised if many of the skins separate completely from the inner fruit. Cover and allow to macerate in a cool place for at least 12 hours and up to a couple days. The longer you wait, the darker your juice will be, but take care to keep it cool during this period or you’ll risk kickstarting fermentation.

Macerating grapes
Grape juice runs clear. Like wine, a grape shrub gets its color from the skins.

2. Strain the grapes through a fine-mesh sieve or chinois into a large glass measuring cup. Take your time (let the weight of the fruit work for you), then use the back of a spoon or a pestle to extract as much liquid as you can.

Straining the juice directly into a measuring cup saves a step—and speeds an otherwise sticky clean-up.

3. Measure the juice. Match the volume 1:1 with vinegar. Strain one more time into a glass bottle or jar (I used the tall, 1.5-pint Ball jars). Refrigerate, and let the flavors meld for at least a week before you break in.

A Shrubbery
One quart of dry grapes made 1-1/2 cups of juice which, with an equal amount of vinegar, perfectly fills a 24-oz jar.

For a refreshing soft drink, try a couple tablespoons of shrub in a glass with ice, and then top off with seltzer. Pour carefully, especially if you’re using home-carbonated soda; apparently vinegar can make the the soda extra, extra fizzy.

And for a shrub-based adult beverage, try one of these:

The Jack Welcher

Jack Welcher
Warm, soft, and toasty.
  • 1 oz Concord grape shrub
  • 1-1/2 oz Calvados or Applejack
  • splash of seltzer or club soda
  • lemon peel for garnish

Shake shrub and apple brandy in a cocktail shaker full of ice. Strain into a coupe or martini glass. Or serve it on the rocks; that was good, too. Top off with soda, garnish with a strip of lemon peel.

The Rogerita

Sub the shrub in for the sweet & sour (or simple syrup & lime) in a classic Margarita.
  • 1-1/2 oz tequila
  • 1 oz Concord grape shrub
  • 1/2 oz Cointreau
  • squeeze of lime, plus a wedge for garnish
  • salt for the glass (optional)

If you’re into the salt thing, rub a lime around the edge of a coupe or martini glass, then dip the rim into kosher salt. Combine tequila, shrub, Cointreau, and lime juice in a shaker with ice. Shake vigorously. Strain into the glass. Garnish with lime wedge.

The Foxy Collins

Foxy Collins
My favorite so far. Light and refreshing. Did you know Concord grapes are considered “too foxy” to make fine wine?
  • 1-1/2 oz gin
  • 1 oz Concord grape shrub
  • seltzer or club soda
  • slice(s) of lemon for garnish
Combine gin, shrub, and seltzer in a Collins glass with ice. Stir. Add lemon slice.

One Comment Add yours

  1. dianemenke says:

    Waste not want not. You can always do something with food slightly or even very past its prime! Hens are handy for this. Never ceases to amaze me how they love to eat things like stale bread, mushy veggies, and even meat scraps.

    I’d like to make home made vinegars but need a mother. Anyone have some to share?


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