Using Homemade Ingredients: Citrus Shrub

I love making homemade ingredients. All it takes is one idea--pepper syrup, rhubarb bitters, strawberry liqueur, lime cordial--and I'm off and running. And often when inspiration does hit, I end up knee-deep in four or five different projects simultaneously. Sometimes the bounty of goods at the farmer's market proves irresistible, sometimes it's just a spontaneous thought about a flavor combination. But regardless of the catalyst, as well as whether a project will take hours, days or even months to complete, the challenges always seem to spring up after the final results are in. Because homemade ingredients are often unique, finding interesting ways to use them can be the biggest obstacle. And time is not always on one's side. Bitters and liqueurs can change over extended periods. And while fortification and refrigeration can extend the life of most syrups, nothing contributes to future waste like lack of use.

Recently I ran into this problem after making two different kinds of vinegar-based citrus shrubs. Because a shrub is preserved with vinegar, it certainly has a longer shelf life than a fruit syrup. But when it comes to potential uses, this vinegar component can make success more difficult. Most fruit syrups can easily be incorporated into drinks where citrus juice or dry ingredients can balance the sweetness. More common shrubs, such as raspberry or blackberry, are challenging because of the vinegar component, but when citrus has been incorporated into the shrub, the options become even more limited. In the past, I have allowed experimental projects to languish in the back of my booze cabinet or even worse in the back of my refrigerator. But this time, I was more determined to find uses for these ingredients. 

Meyer Lemon Shrub
When starting from scratch, usually the best place to start is with something familiar. One of the first drinks I ever had that called for a shrub was a simple, elegant mixture of shrub and dry sherry. The bite of the vinegar's acetic acid pairs superbly with the almost savory dryness of sherry. Why not start there?  With the citrus element, and the inherent lightness of the sherry-shrub combination, gin seemed the natural choice for a base spirit. The bitters provided a necessary depth and contrast, but what really brought the entire cocktail together was quite surprising: salt.

Lemon Shrub Martini

1 3/4 ounces gin
1 1/4 ounces manzanilla sherry
1/2 ounce Meyer lemon shrub
1 dash Bitter Truth Creole bitters
1 pinch salt

Combine ingredients with ice in a mixing glass. Stir and strain into a chilled cocktail glass. Garnish with a lemon twist.

Notes on Ingredients: I used Oxley gin and Lustau manzanilla sherry.

Grapefruit Shrub
Every time I started thinking about how to use the grapefruit shrub, the Hemingway daiquiri kept popping up in my mind. The combination of lime, grapefruit and rum  has always been a winner. Finding a way to balance out all of that acidity, however, would be the challenge. Well, that is besides figuring out how to deal with that pesky maraschino liqueur that is so crucial to the Hemingway. In the end, I decided to keep it simple and just omitted the maraschino altogether. Instead, I found that the more neutral simple syrup  smoothed out all of the citrus and vinegar. The more basic daiquiri recipe allowed the shrub to shine, and the resulting beverage was interesting and refreshing. Again, salt really pulled the drink together and pushed the flavors to the hilt.

Grapefruit Shrub Daiquiri

1 1/2 ounce white rum
3/4 ounce lime juice
1/2 ounce grapefruit shrub
1/2 ounce simple syrup
1 pinch salt

Shake ingredients with ice and strain into a chilled cocktail glass.

Notes on Ingredients: I used Cruzan white rum and a homemade 1:1 simple syrup.

The Mistake--Or, Two Shrubs in One Glass
Considering that even finding a recipe for a vinegar-based citrus shrub proved nearly impossible, I was skeptical of using the Internet--where I usually begin all my searches--to locate an appropriate cocktail recipe. For the most part my assumptions were correct, though I did find one. Earlier this year in Aspen, Colorado, a certain Nathan Harnish from Pacifica Restaurant and Oyster Bar won the Aspen, Colorado, Iron Bartender competition with a drink that included both lemon shrub and grapefruit shrub. Or at least that is what i thought. How providential it seemed at the time! Taking in the recipe as a whole, though, I was even further astounded. It was the strangest assortment of flavors I had ever seen. Of course I had to try it.

Spice Trader Punch (as reported by eatApsen.com localFeast and then further adapted)

2 ounces Batavia arrack
3/4 ounce Grand Marnier
3/4 ounce cognac
3/4 ounce meyer lemon shrub
3/4  ounce grapefruit shrub

Combine ingredients with ice in a mixing glass. Stir and strain into a chilled cocktail glass.

Notes on Ingredients: I used Pierre Ferrand 1840 cognac and Batava Arrack von Oosten.

Of course upon further research, I discovered that this was not the recipe that won the contest. The real recipe is an actual punch, complete with juice and tea. And though Harnish's original recipe does include a grapefruit element and a lemon shrub, he calls for grapefruit juice and a non-vinegar based lemon shrub. The website I initially stumbled onto was just offering a sneak peak of the contest entries, so this mistake is of little consequence in the grand scheme. But that mistaken recipe resulted in a drink that was not only delicious but also multilayered, interesting and exceptionally balanced. Go figure. Sometimes using homemade ingredients can lead you to unexpected experiences.


Baker's Cherry Beauty: The Parisien Cherry Ripe

You should never judge a cocktail solely on the way that its recipe reads. I have been disappointed by cocktails that on paper sounded delicious and pleasantly surprised by ones that seemed to present at best a hot mess. Like when dealing with people, giving a cocktail a chance can often provide a deeper insight into what is really going on beneath the surface. At the very least you will learn exactly what it is that you don't like instead of just guessing what you might not like. Knowledge comes in having the concrete details. Perhaps there is no better time to reserve judgment than when dealing with a Charles Baker drink.

We catch up with our unreliable narrator and guide in the City of Lights, fresh from an outing to Bois du Boulogne where he took in a bit of tennis. And once again we are faced with a drink that at least on paper seems incredibly suspicious. But what really had my mixing tins quaking was the fact that even Baker proclaims the drink "one of the most foetid conceptions ever to come out of a shaker when served improperly chilled." Baker drinks issued without such admonitions can be scary, but with them . . . terrifying to the point of prompting an immediate fit of page-flipping. Truth be told, I almost skipped it. But because I actually had all of the major ingredients and have been proven wrong on more than one occasion, I proceeded hesitantly.

Parisien Cherry Ripe 

1 1/2 ounces gin
3/4 ounce Cherry Marnier
3/4 ounce Kirsch

Blend with crushed ice. Float 1 tsp Cherry Marnier. Garnish with green and red maraschino cherries.

Notes on Ingredients: I used Beefeater gin and omitted the cherry garnish as I was out.

Notes on Method: Though normal practice would warrant stirring, as no juices or cream is included, Baker's requirement of extreme coldness prompted me to change tack. And while Baker describes using a Waring mixer, I chose instead to shake the ingredients with ice and strain the mixture over new freshly crushed ice. 
While this was not the vilest Baker concoction I have ever tasted, which surprised me, it definitely will not win any awards or new Baker followers. Initially it was just too much all cherry all the time. Though spirits make up 75 percent of the recipe, the Cherry Marnier still managed to dominate the drink with its slightly earthy, yet overwhelming sweetness. The dryness of the gin and the slightly nutty kirsch did pair nicely and actually peeked out on occasion, but it was not enough to save this cocktail. And as much as I love a good snow cone, this tipple only resonated on one note and could not hold my interest.

After perusing other cocktail guides as well as the Internet, I discovered that this drink actually predates Baker's world travels. This boozy cherry monster can be found in the Savoy Cocktail Book (1930) not under the moniker of the Parisien Cherry Ripe, but as one of a trio of drinks called the Rose Cocktail (French Style Nos. 1-3). Baker's cocktail and the French Rose No. 2 are exactly the same, except for Baker's decorative additions--the shaved ice and colorful maraschino cherries. The other two variations only include one cherry flavoring agent--either cherry liqueur or kirsch--not both. The French Rose Cocktail No. 1 replaces the kirsch with dry vermouth, while No. 3 replaces the cherry liqueur with syrup de groseille and the gin with dry vermouth.

While trying to figure out how to amend the Parisien Cherry Ripe, these two French Rose versions kept popping into my head. Perhaps the secret to fixing Baker's cocktail would be hidden in the differences. Both of these cocktails are noticeably less boozy. More important, though, might be their dryness as both call for dry vermouth. A bit of dryness certainly couldn't hurt. Though I usually try to stay true to the original ingredients, I decided an additional element might provide the balance and depth this cocktail was missing. Though dry vermouth may have been the natural choice, I chose to insert the acidity and dryness of sparkling wine. While it did help tone down the sweetness, it was the dash of orange bitters that really created an interesting contrast for the earthier flavors of the Cherry Marnier.

New Parisien Cherry Ripe

1 1/4 ounces gin
1/2 ounce Cherry Marnier
1/2 ounce Kirsch
1 dash orange bitters

Stir ingredients with ice in a chilled mixing glass. Strain into a chilled champagne flute or coupe. Add 1 1/2 ounces of dry champagne or sparkling wine.

Notes on Ingredients: I used Beefeater gin, Angostura orange bitters, and Yellowtail sparkling wine.

Trying to improve upon a Baker cocktail often results in a concoction that is only marginally better than the original. Usually it is the initial ingredients that provide the biggest obstacles. Whether the original is off-balance, lacking depth, or completely undrinkable, sometimes only one factor will stand for improvement. In this case, adding dryness and acidity certainly helped, but the result still wasn't the home run I had been hoping for. You can't win them all.