Do you know what a Shrub is? Sure you do, but it’s not what you think. And if you are some know it all, and who isn’t these days with the Food Network on all day long, you’d say they grew in the backyard. WRONG! What I am going to teach you is the OTHER kind of Shrub, woven into a mint julep. Please tell me you’re fascinated because this drink offers just the right sweet/sour/acidic balance that makes drinks intriguing in the first place.

First of all, the Shrub is derived from the ancient word Shurb that over time transcended into the word Shrub. Shrubs are not plants; they are essential flavor packed ingredients in drinks of all kinds. Shrubs are a welcome hit of acidity and sour from the unmistakable ingredient named vinegar. Back in the day before electricity gave us refrigeration, people walked around in extreme stomach distress. This was because most everything that people ate was compromised by the lack of good sanitary practices in the kitchen. Fresh food didn’t stay fresh for long. This caused people to get plugged up. Their apothecary would suggest, more often than not either bitters or soda water to sooth, or vinegar and fruit to regulate.

During the Colonial Era in our country, Shrubs were at their peak of popularity. Sailors would carry them on long sea voyages, soaked in citrus juices- to repeal Scurvy and nurture a punch. On college campuses students would run, virtually amok, drunk on Shrubs that were mixed with rum, brandy or a combination of both. In the inner cities, Shrubs were the summer refreshers that people sought out in absence of soda pop, which had not been invented yet. Then they disappeared as if all the mystery of the past had never taken place. The entire flavor balance and the intensity of Shrubs, were lost to history?

Fast forward to today. I’ve discovered the Shrubs are suddenly HOT around mixologists because their flavor balance is like the combination of licking a sea salt soaked stone and eating a sweet tart candy. They are the perfect vehicles for craft cocktails, especially the mint julep. Now before you get your panties in a bunch over this sacred cocktail, I’m not maligning it in any way. The technique for making a mint julep is time honored and I am not messing with it.

Especially since I’m a Yankee and we all know how that is going to end. Not well.

My sterling silver/copper core cups from the 1930’s are at the ready, but this drink takes a bit longer to do correctly. So polish up your Julep cups, because making a Shrub is not an overnight gig. It takes a week to do it correctly. Just about the right time until the Running of the Roses in the beginning of May.

I love Vietnamese lemonade and just a touch of this salty, tart confection in a mint julep made with this gorgeous bottle of FEW Spirits Bourbon Whiskey is going to set me on fire. Not actually on fire, but you know what I’m alluding too, I hope anyhow.

The FEW Spirits Bourbon is 93 Proof and it sings a song of the quality of its ingredients. I’m stunned by the sweet maple sugar nose and nearly five minute finish. I still can taste it sluicing around inside my mouth, and I only took a small sip. It’s magical and potent. Seriously delicious and I know this Bourbon whiskey will make a gorgeous Southern styled drink.


Brown Butter soaked chocolate bread pudding with hard sauce gives way to deeper aromatics of maple syrup and charred toast. It’s lovely stuff but I think lovely is not the right word. It’s liquid fire enrobed in toasted hazelnut brown butter and sugar. That’s right.

Vietnamese Lemonade Mint Julep Shrub Cocktail – For The Derby & All Summer Long!


Shrub Ingredients:
  • 1 cup Vietnamese preserved lemon segments (Also at Asian markets – lemons will do)
  • 1 cup Apple Cider Vinegar (I use Bragg’s, you should too)
  • 1 teaspoon sea salt
  • 1 cup of Vietnamese Palm Sugar (Asian grocers carry this but you can use Demerara Sugar if you must)
Mint Julep Ingredients:
  • 2 oz. FEW Spirits Bourbon Whiskey
  • 1 oz. Vietnamese Lemonade Shrub
  • Crushed ice
  • Fresh Spearmint
  • ½ oz. Demerara Sugar


Shrub Preparation:
  1. In a non-reactive bowl combine the lemons and the palm sugar
  2. Cover with the sugar and some plastic wrap and let sit for three days
  3. Add the vinegar and stir well, cover
  4. Let sit, stirring daily for another couple days
  5. Strain and mash through a sieve extracting as much lemon pulp as possible
  6. Sprinkle the sea salt over your Shrub and keep in a cool place for up to six months
  7. Use in just about any gin, vodka, rum, bourbon or Scotch cocktail you can dream up… or even as they did in the 1800’s with just cool water or seltzer water!
Mint Julep Preparation:
  1. Muddle your fresh spearmint with your Demerara sugar until the oils come out.
  2. Use a wooden spoon because if you use metal in a silver cup all bad things will happen.
  3. You are using a sterling silver/copper core cup, right? If not, all is not lost. Use a thick-sided glass that will frost up nicely… (Save your nickels and buy a Julep cup someday… Ok, it’s worth it.
  4. Add some ice, add some Bourbon
  5. Add some Shrub and so on.. alternating until your glass is full of your drink
  6. Make a cone like a volcano shape on top of the drink with ice and drizzle some Shrub over the top

Serve one to your friend before drinking your own. You can garnish with fresh mint and lemon zest.

That is nice.