The Drunken Vegan, a.k.a. Patrick J. Hurley, is a full-time barman at the Civil Life Brewing Company and cocktail enthusiast about town. He's an unapologetic drunkard, a vegan and a bon vivant, and, no, he doesn't think those last two terms contradict each other.
We're starting to see more and more cocktails around town that feature a curious ingredient: a shrub. At their most basic, shrubs are made from fruit, sugar and vinegar. They're not new -- Jerry Thomas' 1862 How to Mix Drinks or the Bon-Vivant's Companion includes recipes for four different varieties. But what exactly is a shrub, and why is it in your cocktail? The Drunken Vegan asked Jeffrey Moll Jr., head barman at the Good Pie (6665 Delmar Boulevard, University City; 314-899-9221).
"Shrubs are basically fruit-juice-fortified drinking vinegars," Moll explains. And it turns out they're pretty easy to make. "I macerate fruit and sugar for three days -- I don't like to rush the process. You usually add vinegar in more or less equal parts [to the strained juice obtained from the fruit and sugar], less if it's a strong-tasting vinegar like balsamic. I add some spices and let it sit for about three weeks."
Moll uses them a lot in alcohol-free mocktails as well as traditional cocktails. They are tasty when taken with just soda water. The Drunken Vegan tried a few this way. Blackberry-balsamic, apple, strawberry, pear and peach shrubs all tasted of their source fruits with subtle spice notes and pleasant acidity.
They are great in cocktails because of their complex layers of flavor. "Shrubs add so much character and depth," Moll says. "You have great acidity, you have sweetness, spice -- even one half ounce of a shrub can enhance and change a drink in a way that would take several ingredients."
He's working on some new cocktails with his latest batch of shrubs for the Good Pie. They should be coming out soon, and he has featured shrubs on previous seasons' lists.
The "Step in the Right Direction" is a beautiful cocktail that combines the strawberry shrub with Ransom Old Tom gin, Campari, lemon and Luxardo Fernet. It has a nice balance of sweetness and bitterness with bright, tart lemon. The botanical character of the gin comes through these subtle flavors, adding another dimension to the flavor.
Moll is working on a cool-weather cocktail that combines garam-masala-infused Old Grandad 114 bourbon and the pear shrub. There's warm spice and vanilla on the nose and the palate with lots of rich bourbon character and a little sweetness. The subtle pear note is in the background. This drink will warm you up on the coldest night.
Both drinks highlight the complexity of flavor possible with the use of shrubs. Look for some tasty concoctions featuring these new shrubs soon at the Good Pie.