Fennel-Apple-Rhubarb Shrub & The Summer Breeze

Fennel-Apple-Rhubarb Shrub

So just in case any of you were worried that last year’s shrub-stravaganza was a fleeting obsession, allow me to assure you that it was, so most definitely, not. I’ve been branching out in weird directions this summer, and the results have been mixed thus far. (There’s currently a cantaloupe + champagne vinegar shrub steeping in my pantry that smells……funky. Like musky melon funky. And a fig + balsamic shrub sounded amazing in theory, but the actual execution would have best involved me living in a place where I can get fresh, ripe figs, not strange unripe ones shipped from god knows where. I still have hopes for both of these, but not high ones.) This fennel-apple-rhubarb shrub, however, is a different story.

fennel

I’ve been thinking a lot about using more savory ingredients for shrubs this year, especially after making a couple rad veggie-based drinks. I quickly fixated on fennel, and combining it with apple. When the time came to make this, I had intended on throwing together a strawberry + rhubarb one as well. But after discovering that my strawberries had gotten a bit iffy looking, I said what the heck and threw the rhubarb in with the fennel and apple.

fennel + apples

fennel + apples

The result is a delicious shrub with a lot going on. There’s an up-front tartness from the rhubarb, followed by a mellow sweetness and body from the apple. The anise-y flavor of the fennel tones everything down without being overwhelming, and makes this a very complex and tasty beverage.

Fennel-Apple-Rhubarb Shrub

Because of its tartness and depth of flavor, I was immediately drawn towards mixing it with aperitifs. Upon tasting my first concoction (which was good in its own right, but not quite there), I was reminded of one of my favorite drinks I used to order at a local restaurant. It was called Autumn Winds, and it contained (if I remember correctly) vodka, aperol, lillet, cynar, lemon juice, and coffee pecan bitters.

Summer Breeze

The Autumn Winds led me to understand the purpose of vodka in a drink. When I first became interested in cocktails a couple years ago and actually developed a taste for things like whiskey and gin (the latter was a huge step for me, having capital-H Hated it for the longest time), I started copping a snotty attitude towards vodka. Now, to be fair, the fact that one has to sort through a sea of unimaginable flavored vodkas just to find a plain, decent bottle these days really did not help things at all. (Iced cake vodka, really? And “sorbet light”……wtf does that even MEAN?!) But this drink made me realize that there are times when you leave the flavor-building to the liqueurs, and let vodka do its thing as a neutral base spirit.

Summer Breeze

So, I decided to recreate the Autumn Winds as best I could (I definitely craned my neck in an attempt to get a good look at how the bartender made it on more than one occasion — Hi Maji!), swapping out the lemon juice for the shrub. The resulting drink is pretty close to what I remember. Now, just a few words about the ingredients. If you indulge in fancy cocktails, you’ve probably tried (or at least heard of) Lillet and Aperol. Cynar might come across as a little bit weirder, especially with its (awesomely ugly) label featuring a giant artichoke. But please believe me when I tell you that it is freakin’ delicious. (Caveat: It might not be for everyone, as it does have a rather bitter, more complex flavor than some of the sweeter, less alcoholic aperitifs. The word I often use to describe the taste is “squeaky,” which I realize makes absolutely no sense at all. But don’t you kind of want to try it now, just to know what the heck I’m talking about? Yusss.) In this particular drink, it does a great job of balancing out the brightness of the other ingredients. And the coffee-pecan bitters really bring the whole thing together in a harmonizing sort of way (as I find they do in most drinks where there is a lot going on in the flavor department). I made my own from the recipe in BTP’s Bitters. You can find a similar recipe here (just add 1/2 a cup of toasted pecans), or feel free to drop me a line if you’d like the recipe I used. If you don’t want to go to the trouble of making your own bitters, I think any store-bought variety with nutty/coffee/molasses-y components would do nicely.

There are, of course, plenty of other ways to use this shrub! Experiment with it in your own cocktails, or simply add it to soda water to make a super refreshing drink. Also, I realize rhubarb is pretty much out of season at this point (although I did see a few lonely stalks kicking around the natural foods market this week). There is one vendor at my market that actually gets a fall crop of rhubarb, but I’m not sure if this is a common thing everywhere. As an alternative, you could use Granny Smith (or another variety of tart apple) in place of the rhubarb.

Summer Breeze

Fennel-Apple-Rhubarb Shrub

makes: approximately 2 cups of syrup

2/3 cup of rhubarb, chopped
2/3 cup of fennel, finely chopped
2/3 cup of apple, chopped (I used Fuji)
2 cups of granulated sugar
1 1/4 cups of white wine vinegar
3/4 cup of apple cider vinegar

Combine rhubarb, fennel, apple, and sugar in a bowl, stirring to evenly coat the fruit. Allow mixture to sit for around 1 hour, then macerate until everything is nice and broken up. Cover and let sit for 24 hours. (At room temperature is fine, but feel free to stick it in the fridge too.)

After 24 hours, macerate the mixture again, trying to crush the fruit as much as possible. At this point, you can add the vinegars immediately, or let it sit for another 24 hours. (I’d recommend giving it the additional 24 hours, as I think this extra fermentation time does nice things for the final flavor.)

When ready, add the vinegars and stir well. Store at room temperature (or in the fridge, if you prefer) for 7–9 days, giving it a good stir each day. When finished, pour the mixture through a cheesecloth-lined sieve, then transfer to a clean jar or container. Store syrup in the fridge.

Summer Breeze

makes: 1 drink

3/4 oz. vodka
3/4 oz. Lillet Blanc
3/4 oz. Aperol
3/4 oz. fennel-apple-rhubarb shrub
1/2 oz. Cynar
dash of coffee-pecan bitters
lemon twist

Add lemon twist to a chilled cocktail glass, rubbing it around the rim first. Shake all the other ingredients in a shaker with ice, then strain into the glass.

Summer Breeze

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Comments

  1. says

    Oh, sweet heavens. You. This. WHOA. Cynar fascinates me. Never tried it, but I’m so enamored with the idea of it. I love the bitter apertifs!

    I feel compelled to confess: I totally indulge in cake vodka when I’m home and hanging out with my mom. Major guilty pleasure. But…I can’t believe I’m saying this…I drink it on the rocks, so that makes me feel a little better about it. My mom mixes it with things like pineapple juice and root beer, which…EW. Clearly, it’s used much more sensibly in the way you’ve described here.

    Now that I’ve admitted that, I’m going to repent by making some coffee-pecan bitters. And hang my head in shame. Oh, the shame!

    • says

      Bwahahahaha. Oh man, I love hearing about guilty indulgences! I will so commend you for drinking it on the rocks at least. :D (I’ve seen things like cake batter martinis made with heavy cream that totally horrify me. Goodness.)

      You should definitely try some Cynar the next chance you get! I recommend ordering it in a drink at a bar first, since a bottle can be rather pricey. But I think you will love it. :) (There’s an off-menu drink that the bartender at my new favorite watering hole made me once when I mentioned my love of Cynar, and now I order it all the time. It’s gin, cynar, and punt e mes, over a big ol’ ice cube. So good!)

  2. says

    Well,now I definitely want to get my hands on a bottle of Cynar, just because. :) This shrub sounds super complex and interesting! I’ve never tried making shrubs for some reason, but one of my friends has recently gone nuts for them, so I’m thinking some experimentation may be happening soon…

    • says

      Thank you, Autumn! I’m really excited for the savory shrubs. (It’s about to get weird, like shrubs made from tomatoes and peppers and celery weird.) :D

  3. says

    I don’t even know where to start! The combo or fennel, apple and rhubarb is a total winner in my book and when you start making fancy cocktails out of it, you’ve totally got me. Love this.

  4. says

    I still can’t really imagine the taste … sounds totally interesting for me!
    If you’re that into bitters, you should try to get hold of a bottle “Suze”, made of gentian roots!

    • says

      Thank you, Emma! :) Shrubs are my favorite, and I’m happy to see them gaining even more popularity this year. So many possibilities for flavor combinations!

  5. says

    Yusss!!! This shrub looks awesome on its own, but the way you’ve mixed it sounds unimaginably spectacular! That color is fantastic, and I’m dying to try Cynar after the way you’ve described it. I just had some ginger vodka nim nam made by a friend (recipe coming soon!) and was thinking about how to rationalize the use of this uncool liquor on my site. (sorbet light? really?) I agree that it has its uses, like light rum, in cocktails with light, subtle flavors that need to shine. And some of it (like Hangar 1) is actually really tasty.
    Also, that opening shot is a work of art – I want to hang it on my wall. :)

    • says

      Thanks, Alanna!! :D (I am so in love with the color of this shrub. It’s like a perfect translucent peachy color.)

      Oooo, I can’t wait to see what you do with that ginger vodka! Does it have an awesome ginger heat to it? (I actually bet it would be really rad in this drink I order all the time from one of my favorite bars in town. It’s cilantro and fresh ginger muddled with lime juice, then gin and vodka and ginger beer. I bet the ginger vodka would be an awesome replacement for fresh ginger!)

      Oh! And YES, you absolutely must try Cynar. It’s the best!!! You will love it. :D

  6. says

    Haha, I think I caught the tail end of your shrub extravaganza last year, and was wondering when you’d start up again. I love this combination of flavors! Fennel is kind of anise-y, right? That sounds so cool! Especially when played against the apple and rhubarb. The fig combination sounds interesting too, but I definitely know what you mean about the state of figs in the area. They’re not the best specimens out here, are they?

    Admittedly, I’ve never seen the weird vodka flavors you described (iced cake? Is it reminiscent of a newly-frosted yellow cake?), but really, do people HAVE NO SHAME? Just kidding. I saw Brianne’s comment at the top and yeah, there’s definitely a time and place for such drinks. I would probably draw the line at sorbet light though. :)

    • says

      Hehe, yes! I went bonkers for shrubs last year. The fennel flavor went so well with the apple and the anise. And that fig shrub is so weird. I still have yet to try it. It smells kind of good, but it also has the under-ripe smell to it, which makes it seem kind of vegetal.

      Bwahahahahaha, Brianne! :D I love it. I went into the liquor store to buy some vodka the other day, and was mesmerized by just how many insane flavors there were. Like things that I didn’t even understand. It’s madness!

  7. Laura says

    Hah. Since I don’t drink, most of this post was foreign to me, although it sounds all ominous and cool. Lol. I am dying here, though, because your first reply above, about cake batter martinis? TOO funny. Went to dinner with a friend recently, and she was only half paying attention to the menu, and ordered one, and was all “oh…I wasn’t expecting there to be cream and sprinkles in this”. Of course, I read the whole thing BEFORE she ordered it, so I knew what was coming…

  8. says

    I swear you are some kind of flavor magician. I don’t know how you come up with such awesome combos, lady! Plus I’m totally enamored by that first shot of the cut up fennel.

    Oh! ALSO in my excitement about the chickpeas (gah, those chickpeas…) in my last comment I forgot to say that I ordered a new camera! I’ve been saving up for AH-GES and got the 5D mark III
    I
    am
    so
    excited
    okay, I’m going to shut up now.

    • says

      I am going to give like 85% of the credit to The Flavor Bible, and 15% credit to my weird whims. :D (I also love love love the fennel shots, most especially that one. Those were taken at my parents’ place when I was housesitting! Best light ever.)

      Omg, I just remembered that I forgot to comment on your L3 post but OMG MKIII!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! Yaaaaaaaay!!! You are going to LOVE it, and you are going to take the most amazing gorgeous pictures EVER, because you already do. It’s gonna be out of control. :D

  9. says

    I could learn so much about cocktails from you — you’ve already mentioned a dozen I’ve never tried, and your descriptions have my mouth watering. So intrigued by all the flavors going on here!

  10. says

    I’m so intrigued by shrubs. I’ve been a Lillet drinker for years, and just recently have fallen in love with Aperol, so I think I need to make this. Pronto. The flavor combination is just genius, and looks wonderfully complex. My kinda drink. Yep.

  11. says

    Wow, your cocktail ingredients list is pretty much every liquor I’ve been wanting to buy but haven’t yet. This is precicesly the motivation I need to purchase them! And savory shrubs?? That sounds pretty freakin’ amaze right now. There’s just something about the pairing of vegetal/herbal flavors with a sweet and tangy shrub that sounds so delightfully perfect. Once all this wedding hullabaloo is over and done with I am going to get some serious shrub-making on!

    • says

      Thank you, Kulsum! The fennel shot is my favorite. :) (I yearn for the lighting in my parents’ kitchen, which is where the ingredient shots were taken.)

  12. says

    I don’t know what kind of devilry you had in mind whoosing lillet – it’s a personal weakness for me. The last bottle mysteriously disappeared from the fridge. I blame the roommates.

  13. Sunshine says

    I was drawn to you from another recipe you posted as I, too, have wonderful memories of ditching class and picking blackberries along the river bank. I stumbled upon this and all my culinary bells went off in unison! Savory Shrubs? What? ……..I am now completely and whole heartedly in love love love! I have something NEW to try and test on my besties which is AWESOME! As a single mom with two small boys the prospect of something that does not result in playdoh is precious! THANK YOU THANK YOU and I am now eagerly awaiting something involving ginger/blackberries/chocolate perhaps? Ahhhh….my imagination runs wild! I have had a blast with liquors that were unknown to me and combination I never would have dreamed up! On a side note….I have figs growing wild everywhere, including the back yard.~

    • says

      Thank you so much for your sweet comment! I just filtered and bottled up a bunch of my savory shrub experiments, and I am SO excited to start testing them out in drinks! (I made a tomato shrub, a red pepper shrub, and a celery shrub. The celery is going to be a winner, I think. It smells so amazing.) And I am totally jealous of all those figs! :)

  14. says

    Hi there. Just discovered your blog, enjoying diving in, and wanted to say a) GORJEEEUS photos. Teach me your ways; b) dig your writing style, both playfully irreverent and informative (both personal aspirations to be in life); and c) feel you harddd on the recent turning over a new leaf in the form of full-on gin exploration and current vodka stink eye. Absolutely, though, when I want to play with cocktail add-ins, my old and trusty friend vodka is wear it’s at. Keep on, kindred food-obsessive.

    • says

      Hi Jenna! Thanks so much for your awesome comment. (It made my day when I read it…the other day [work has me totally spacing on the blog lately!] and then again when I re-read it today.) :)

  15. says

    YUM! I was looking for some syrups to use in cocktails – now I’ll be syruping all summer (Oz summer that is :) )
    Not really a dissimilar method to the way I make jam – guess its all about getting all the goodness you can out of the fruit.
    Love your pics btw…

    • says

      Thanks, Alicia! I predict I’ll be feeling jealous of your southern hemisphere summer in no more than a couple months, once we’re covered in snow here in the northeast. :)

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