Booze 101: All about shrubs
If you’re familiar with shrubs, you’re either a fan of Monty Python, chaparral climates or cocktails. But, since this is a Booze 101 primer, we’ll just focus on the latter.
If you’re serious about cocktails, shrubs should already be your rotating vocabulary. With its tart and fruity profile, it is the heart and soul of many of the best concoctions throughout San Diego.
But newbies on the scene, the term brings a certain deer-in-headlights response, or a quick-to-judge dismissal due to its vinegar component. As a result, some of the most complex and interesting flavor profiles in the market get easily overlooked.
One San Diego company, Nostrum, is endeavoring to change the anonymity of shrubs and bring it to the glasses of cocktail drinkers everywhere.
Dating back to the 17th Century, shrubs (which in this case are liquid in form, not plant form) are traditionally made as a syrup concentrated with fruit, sugar and vinegar. Nostrum ups the ante by using local fruits and herbs, organic cane sugar, and organic apple cider vinegar. Interesting flavors include blackberry, cacao nib and sage shrub; kumquat, lemongrass and lime leaf shrub; and strawberry, hibiscus and jalapeno shrub, amongst others.
PACIFIC chatted with owner and creator Lucas Ryden to find out more about his Nostrum name, the local ingredients he uses, his suggestion for a starter shrub, and how to incorporate this unique liquid into food and drinks.
Where does the name nostrum come from?
LUCAS RYDEN: It’s is an old medical term that means a medicine that was ineffective, like snake oil or fake medicine.
Why a shrub company?
I was living in Santa Barbara and was fresh out of college, my degree was in writing and business, and I was bartending and working in restaurants. I thought, how can I combine everything? I came across shrubs in bartending and it stopped me in my tracks. There were a lot of bitters in 2014, but there weren’t a lot of shrubs, so it was an unsaturated market. It started in the bars and with friends up there, and then I moved back to San Diego in 2015 and started Nostrum.
What makes Nostrum shrubs different from other brands?
What I saw on the market for the most part was simple, with single fruits. When I started playing with them, I thought about layering and combining ingredients into one bottle. The more you can get in one bottle, the better for the customer. I set out to create a line that was more interesting and complex and more ingredient driven with less vinegar. Most people don’t want to smell or taste vinegar in their drink.
What local produce do you use?
All the berries, strawberries and blackberries come from Valley Center, from Stehly Farms. I get the citrus (like kumquats) from them, as well, or from La Vigne Organics in Fallbrook.
What are some ways readers can use shrubs easily? Any unexpected ways?
Yes absolutely! You can make a shrub soda with sparkling water, cook with them, and use in salad dressings. You have the base of the dressing there, just add equal parts olive oil. Try the blackberry on vanilla yogurt or ice cream.
What’s a great starter shrub for a newbie?
I think overall I would suggest the pineapple turmeric ginger. It’s approachable, fruity and a little funky and spicy. I use it the most, it works with most cocktails and I cook with it. It’s also my favorite for salad dressing.
Favorite cocktail and shrub combo?
There’s one cocktail for each shrub, but recently in the last few months, my favorite is a simple daiquiri with the white rum, lime juice and strawberry cascara ginger shrub. It’s a clean cocktail.
Does anyone every use shrubs for health benefits?
The base is organic apple cider, so it’s definitely healthier than any cocktail mixer or standard syrup. If you are going to be having cocktails, it’s healthier to be doing it this way.
What should people know about Nostrum?
If you enjoy cocktails, a lot of bartenders have a mental block, so tell bartenders that you like shrubs. The biggest hurdle for a small company like me is that people don’t know what it is, because it is far from being in mainstream consciousness yet. So the more we can educate the better.
Where can San Diegans find nostrum for a cocktail or bottle?
I (tend bar) at Realm of the 52 Remedies, so there and also Kindred, Campfire, Clara and retail at Collins & Coupe in North Park.
To shop nostrum for flavor selections and more recipes, visit nostrumshrubs.com
Make it at home
2 oz. gin
3/4 oz. fresh lemon juice
1/4 oz. simple syrup
Shake with ice and strain.
1.5 oz. bourbon
1/2 oz. aperol
1 oz. fresh grapefruit juice
Shake with ice and strain.
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