Food & Drink

At Northern Belle, shrubs are back in bloom

Shrubs—not the garden variety, but the cocktail mixer—are coming to a bar near you

(Image: Dave Gillespie)

Between the rise of old-timey general stores, and cookbooks devoted to canning, pickling and other lost domestic arts, we continue to be preoccupied with reviving the past. Which may explain the return of the shrub—a vinegared syrup that was devised to preserve fruit before we had refrigeration. During American colonial times, shrubs were mixed with spirits and sparkling water for a quenching sweet-tart cocktail. Today, they’re often served in the summer as an easy-mixing, gulpable cooler (and they make a nice virgin drink for teetotallers), but they’re even better when the weather is frosty and you need a little brightness in a glass.

(Images: Dave Gillespie)

Tristan Tarr, the bartender at Dundas West’s cozy corner spot Northern Belle, makes all of his syrups and tinctures in-house, including the tamarind shrub for the warm, spicy cocktail he calls the Lafontaine. But shrubs are also sold at specialty shops like BYOB and the Organic Boutique on Queen West. They’re an acquired taste—some might find the vinegar twang overpowering, especially if the pour is heavy-handed. But you can blend them with just about any spirit, so the variations are limitless. “Bartending is math,” says Tarr. “As long as you keep the classic ratios intact—two parts alcohol, one part acid, one part sweet—you can’t really go wrong.”


45 mL bourbon 30 mL tamarind shrub 15 mL fresh lemon juice 2 dashes Angostura bitters

Shake with ice and pour into a coupe (which you could wash with a swirl of Laphroaig scotch for an extra smoky kick). Tamarind is naturally sweet and sour, so Tarr uses citric acid instead of vinegar for his house-made shrub. But store-bought varieties work just as well.

At Home: Find these pre-made shrubs at BYOB on Queen West

BYOB: Pok Pok
Pok Pok Som Tamarind Shrub $20 Pok Pok introduced its drinking vinegars almost five years ago. The tamarind flavour has notes of cinnamon and allspice, which stand up to full-flavoured amber liquors.
BYOB: Liber & Co
Liber and Co. Rhubarb and Ginger Shrub $14.99 Sour rhubarb and spicy ginger make for a warming mid-winter pick-me-up drink. Try mixing it with an aged tequila for a punchy cocktail.
BYOB: Shrub & Co
Shrub and Co. Cranberry Shrub with Douglas Fir $24.95 Douglas fir has a flavour similar to freshly squeezed lemons, which gives the tart cranberries a bright edge. It’s nice with vodka or gin.


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