Thursday, August 8, 2013

Made of Thorns & Blackberry Shrub


Made of Thorns
2 oz aged Jamaican rum (Appleton Reserve)
3/4 oz blackberry shrub
1/2 oz ROOT
2 tsp Fernet Branca
blackberries for garnish

Shake all on ice well and double-strain into a chilled cocktail glass. Garnish with blackberries.

Wine-like berry, with mint chocolate and spice sliding into tawny notes of root beer melded to barrel notes and back around to berry again, with a touch of vanilla on the backside. The shrub's vinegar transforms the two herbal liqueurs into something much more savory on first sip.

This may well be an excellent use of Appleton Reserve, that halfway point between gold and seriously aged Jamaican rums. Its minor hogo works well with the other ingredients and that "halfway point" becomes functionality: more golden would be too limpid, more aged would be too soft.


Back in June, with the bounty of summer fruit at hand at the farmers' market, I figured my shrub of the summer would be a blackberry one, a near polar opposite to my apricot-Meyer lemon shrub of last year (a mini-bottle of which I still have - and quite good at that!). (and let's face it, sometimes a girl wants to chug anthocyanins, y'know?) As a matter of course, the shrub would surely wend its way into a cocktail recipe or two, but the first few weeks after the shrub was finished the vinegar still needed to tame itself. I left it in the fridge, forgot about it for awhile and before long the syrup was bursting with fresh-muddled berry flavor. But how to use it?

Meanwhile, sometimes I get recipe ideas while at work, in which case I become very single-minded until I can get home and work on it. ROOT and Fernet and blackberries. But would my homemade blackberry liqueur hold up? Turns out not. Ok, how about blackberry brandy? Ehhh.. blends in too much. (what about the shrub?) (Too tart, too sugary) Maybe a base spirit, dry it out and give it a foundation. Eh, still sweet. Maybe lime? Too sharp.

It took a night or two away before the shrub started making sense: less sweet, less sharp, helps pare down the number of ingredients. Best blackberry flavor of the bunch, and more backbone than muddled blackberries. A slight ratio tweak from the original tester hit upon a true revelation of balance -- while too complex to be a good shrub-demonstrator, there's some kind of kismet happening in Made of Thorns.

I should also note, it bears some resemblance to the Dirt 'n Diesel and the Swagger Rite.


Blackberry shrub
16 oz blackberries (roughly 327g overall)
equal amounts white and demerara sugar
balsamic vinegar
half a bunch of fresh mint (peppermint if possible)
1 tsp crushed allspice berries
  1. Measure the weight of your fruit to determine how much sugar and vinegar you'll need; that is, you'll need a weight of sugar equal to the fruit and a weight of vinegar equal to the fruit.
  2. Gently muddle the mint in your infuse-bowl with the sugar for 1-2 hours. 
  3. Add the allspice and berries, muddling all, emphasis on crushing the berries. Cover and let rest at room temperature for about 24 hours, stirring or shaking occasionally to help everything combine.
  4. Remove the mint, wringing out the syrup.
  5. Measure your vinegar by weight into a pot on the stove. Bring the vinegar to a quick near-boil on the stove and pour over your blackberry mixture, stirring to dissolve and meld.
  6. Cover, let cool at room temp, then store the covered bowl in the fridge for 2 weeks. You'll get the best flavor from the blackberries this way.
  7. Strain the final shrub syrup, pressing/wringing through cheesecloth to get all the liquid. 
  8. Bottle and store in the fridge. Let rest at least 2 weeks before using. Shake well before pouring.
  9. Makes about 3 cups.
Shrubs are simply equal parts by weight of fruit, sugar, and vinegar. Here I used fresh mint and crushed allspice to enhance the blackberry notes. I divided the sugar into 2 types: white for brightness and demerara for earthiness and a touch of smoke. After finding something like champagne vinegar rather sharp in my apricot-Meyer lemon shrub, I opted for smooth and mellow balsamic, the better to sink into the background and bring the fruit to the fore.

Intensely drinkable mixed with seltzer.