For July 4th, serve a libation enjoyed by George Washington
Ben Franklin too. And no doubt many of our other founding fathers. That’s because shrubs – fruit preserved in a syrup of sugar and vinegar – were extremely popular in both America and Britain in those days.
Shrub syrup is even better if you add some strong spirits to the mix. But maybe you guessed that already.
You can use almost any booze, but we’re using rum. It was by far the most popular spirit in America around the time of the Revolutionary War. And the flavor of rum blends perfectly with shrub syrup.
Ready to fuel your patriotic fervor?
Recipe: Rum Shrub Cocktail
To make a Rum Shrub Cocktail, you’ll need some Homemade Shrub Syrup (we’re using blackberries in ours, but any berry or fruit will work), plus dark or amber rum, and soda water or seltzer. If you don’t feel like making your own shrub syrup, you can buy commercial versions – search the interwebs and you’ll find it.
If you don’t favor rum, you can use bourbon, cognac or brandy, vodka, tequila – almost any booze you can think of. We haven’t tried all the possible combos, but we’ve liked every one we’ve sampled so far.
We first learned about rum shrubs in an article written by Eric Felten for the Wall Street Journal back in 2006. We like his recipe, so that’s what we use.
This drink takes about 5 minutes to prepare, and serves 1.
- 2 ounces dark or amber rum
- 1 ounce blackberry or raspberry shrub syrup (or to taste; see Notes)
- soda or seltzer water (enough to fill the glass – about 4 ounces; may substitute ginger ale)
- garnish of orange wheel or twist (optional)
- Fill a tall (Collins) glass with ice. Add the rum and shrub syrup. Fill the glass with soda or seltzer water.
- Add straws, and stir to combine the ingredients. Garnish with an orange wheel or twist, if desired, and serve.
- We think an ounce of shrub syrup is about the right amount in this drink, but you may wish to add a bit more or less.
- If you prefer, you can reduce the amount of rum to 1½ ounces. We often do when we’re having more than one of these.
- Some people like to add ½ ounce or so of lemon juice. This tastes a bit unbalanced to us, but you may like it. It’s worth experimenting.
- Back in colonial America, rum was pretty raw stuff. Rum is made from sugarcane byproducts, and in those days it wasn’t refined to any great degree. Today’s rum is much higher quality – and much tamer.
- We haven’t tried Demerara rum in this cocktail, but think its bold, smoky flavor would work well. BTW, this rum is named after the Demerara region of Guyana, where it’s made.
- Back in the day, shrub drinks often were made in bulk, almost like a punch. And they sometimes were bottled and sold as a beverage.
- Felten reminds us that in William Makepeace Thackeray’s Vanity Fair, George Osborne (a key character) is sent by a school bully “to run a quarter of a mile; to purchase a pint of rum-shrub on credit.” Osborne accidentally breaks the bottle as he reenters the school playground, and the bully proceeds to thwack Osborne with a cricket stump. Osborne is saved by William Dobbin (a somewhat heroic figure, even though Thackeray called the book “a novel without a hero”), and the two become steadfast friends.
- There was no sparkling (soda) water back in colonial America, so shrub drinks usually were mixed with still (tap) water. You can make them that way if you prefer, although we like fizzy water.
- BTW, recipes for shrubs have been found in Ben Franklin’s papers and in a book that Martha Washington owned.
We Hold these Truths to be Self-Evident
“Yummy,” said Mrs. Kitchen Riffs. “Our founding fathers knew how to make a spirited drink.”
“Agreed,” I said, raising my glass. “Though I regret that I have but one shrub to drink for my country.”
“These are the dregs that try men’s souls,” said Mrs K R, eyeing her fast-diminishing shrub.
“No worries, we have more where that came from,” I said. “I have not yet begun to mix!”
“Life, liberty, and the pursuit of cocktails,” said Mrs K R. “Is this a great country or what?”
Happy Independence Day, everyone!
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