In the beverage world, the term “shrub” refers to a homemade concoction featuring fruit, sugar, and vinegar that yields a sweet and sour syrup. Like jams, jellies, and preservers, shrubs were simply another method of preserving fruit back in colonial America. There were cherry shrubs, strawberry shrubs, raspberry shrubs—really any fruit could be shrubbed. The fruity, sharp, and sweet vinegar syrup was usually simply mixed with water for a cool and refreshing drink, and later, shrubs were mixed with spirits and liqueurs for bracing cocktails. Nowadays, shrub cocktails are re-emerging and becoming more and more popular within the craft cocktail movement and popping up in more and more bars across the country.
Because any number of vinegars can be used to make a shrub, they are often referred to as “drinking vinegars”. And since we Pinoys do loves us some vinegar, I figured a Filipino drinking vinegar was in order (plus it was a good excuse for me to have a cocktail or two).
For my first foray into the wilderness of shrubs (whoa! pun!), I leaned on this wonderful shrub primer over at Serious Eats. For the fruit in my shrub, I decided to go with Filipino calamansi limes, and for the vinegar, I went with Filipino white cane vinegar. I kept things simple with this first round of shrub, opting to use just calamansi, vinegar, and sugar. But I do plan on trying other incarnations with different fruits (ginger, chile peppers, berries, etc), and a variety of different Filipino vinegars (dark sugarcane vinegar, coconut vinegar, palm vinegar, etc).
Making this Calamansi Shrub was super easy. I first cut some calamansi limes in half, squeezed and reserved the juice, and reserved the rinds as well. I weighed the rinds in a bowl, then added an equal weight of sugar to them. After muddling the sugar and rinds for a bit, I covered the bowl and placed it in the refrigerator overnight.
Muddled Calamansi Limes and Sugar
After a day or so, a thick syrup formed from the rinds and sugar, to which I added the reserved calamansi juice. I let the mixture sit at room temperature for a couple hours, then I strained the liquid from the rinds. Finally, I added the Filipino cane vinegar to the mixture and stirred until the sugar was completely dissolved. I only added a tablespoon of the vinegar at a time, tasting the syrup after each addition. After adding about 1/4 – 1/2 cup of vinegar, I was happy with the balance of tang and sweetness.
Calamansi and Filipino Sugarcane Vinegar Shrub
The resultant shrub syrup was full of bright, calamansi aroma and flavor (think mandarin orange crossed with a lime), and had a nice balance of sweet and sour, without an overpowering vinegar taste. A couple tablespoons of this Calamansi shrub with soda water is incredibly refreshing. I could imagine even pouring some of this syrup over ice cream. But of course, I had to make a cocktail, no? Yes.
For a simple, yet stiff, cocktail, I mixed some of the Calamansi Shrub with Campari and Gin (a Negroni essentially, but with the shrub subbing in for the sweet vermouth). The sweet tang of the Calamansi Shrub balanced nicely with the bitterness of the Campari, with the juniper notes in the gin not being overpowered by either. Because of the bitterness in this drink, I like to call it “The Ilocano”, since my peeps from the Northern Ilocano region of the Philippines love bitterness so much.
Below is a recipe for “The Ilocano” cocktail. To make your own Calamansi Shrub, refer to this post on Serious Eats for some guidelines—I ended up using equal parts fruit, sugar, and vinegar/calamansi juice (8 ounces calamansi rinds, 8 ounces sugar, 1/2 cup calamansi juice, 1/2 cup vinegar), but you could adjust this ratio to your own liking. Enjoy.
Homemade Calamansi Shrub syrup made from Filipino calamansi limes, Filipino sugarcane vinegar, and sugar. The shrub syrup is then mixed into a cocktail with gin and Campari.
- 1 1/2 ounces gin
- 3/4 ounce Campari
- 3/4 ounce Calamansi Shrub Syrup (see method above)
- Calamansi limes for garnish
- Combine the gin, Campari, and Calamansi shrub in a cocktail shaker filled with ice. Stir until thoroughly chilled, about 30 seconds. Strain into chilled rocks glass filled with fresh ice. Garnish with Calamansi lime and serve immediately.