by Bridget O’Donnell

Saturday, July 30th, the Poughkeepsie Public Library District held its first Luau at the Library. It was a great success; thank you to everyone who attended the bustling two-hour event. There was hula dancing, cotton candy, face painting, a dunk tank, a climbing wall, crafts, games, mocktails and more. Offering the choice of a Hibiscus Mocktail, Blue Hawaii Punch, or a Sweet Sunrise, our mocktail station modestly served over 200 drinks. Scroll down to the bottom of this post for links to the recipes used for the event and a list of additional recipes that can be found in the library’s collection. Disclaimer: The flavor of the drinks evolved ever so slightly during the event; however, the ingredients remained consistent throughout.

Researching non-alcoholic mocktails and spritzers for the Luau indirectly led me to an array of simple syrup flavors and tangentially to shrubs. Pre-made simple syrup and recently shrubs, can be purchased in grocery or liquor stores. They can also be made at home, where you can scale the recipe up or down as needed. Simple syrup is 1 part water to 1 part granulated sugar. For the Luau, we chose to use Turbinado sugar instead of honey so that anyone observing a vegan diet could participate. Search the internet for a simple syrup recipe using the sweetener of your choice. The ratio may vary slightly for liquid sweeteners like honey.

A few weeks before the Luau, I started experimenting in the kitchen. Using fresh and dehydrated rose petals, I made a small batch of rose syrup suggested in a recipe for rose milk tea. The tea was lovely, and thankfully, the syrup complemented other hot and cold recipes. It was also easy enough to make, which is equally as important. I made Strawberry Rhubarb syrup, using a mix of granulated sugar, a little local honey, and a few seasonal ingredients. More adventurously, I made a Strawberry Rhubarb shrub. In this case, most of us probably have to reimagine the word shrub. I’m not referring to a decorative plant but a non-alcoholic vinegar-based simple syrup. This shrub is derived from the Arabic word “shariba,” which translates to “drink.” Also known for an acidic bite or tartness and fruity brightness, shrubs have been used to flavor beverages since ancient times. The forward in Shrubs: An Old-Fashioned Drink for Modern Times provides a historical and authoritative delineation, but here are a few quick and interesting facts about shrubs:

  • The shrub family tree can be traced back to Roman times. This was a pre-refrigeration manner of preserving seasonal produce used throughout the Colonial Era into the early years of the New Republic before it fell out of favor. Shrubs were briefly revived by temperance advocates looking for liquor-free alternatives that offered more flavor. Repeal and world war washed shrubs away again, but they were rediscovered more than a half-century later after the mid-twentieth century.
  • “Research shows that sour-tasting beverages – such as vinegar and lemonade – are better at stimulating salivation than are other drinks. A wet mouth helps you feel hydrated even after you’re done drinking.” (pg.15)
  • “Vinegar served a couple of important roles as a beverage in ancient times. First, people drank it simply so they wouldn’t have to throw it away: when you work very hard for your food and beverage, you don’t waste it. More importantly, however, vinegar was used to sterilize dirty water, to make it drinkable.” (pg.21)

Remember to stay hydrated when the summer heat and humidity are higher.

Title of Cookbook:

Shrubs: An Old-Fashioned Drink for Modern Times: Sweet and Savory Cocktails and Sophisticated Sodas  

Author of Cookbook: Michael Dietsch; foreword by Paul Clarke.

What prompted you to check out this recipe? Initially, I was vetting cookbooks for recipes we might serve at the Luau at the Library’s Mocktail booth. While browsing the shelf this book caught my attention, the history piqued my interest.

What did you like about this recipe?

  1. Aside from compostable scraps, a shrub produces no waste. The strained fruit can be reused for a second batch, or chilled and eaten by the spoonful. It can also be enjoyed as a parfait with granola and yogurt or served on top of ice cream or gelato. To apply some degree of transference, it might also make a really great shortcake or jam.
  2. Macerating the fruit called for more sugar than I was comfortable using. Thankfully, one tablespoon of the finished product goes a long way.
  3. In my opinion, the shrub tastes way better as a non-alcoholic spritzer in seltzer water or club soda than it does in an alcoholic beverage.
  4. Using the cold process to macerate the fruit produces a brighter, fresher-tasting shrub that’s lighter in color and body but richer in flavor. The cold process not only allows the full flavors of the fruit come through, fresh and unmuted, but because it’s raw, it also retains more nutrients (to help balance the sugar content, hahah).

What didn’t you like about this cookbook/recipe?

  1. The shrub required a little more attention while it simmered on the stovetop than the syrups seemed to.
  2. Due to the (daunting) amount of sugar used to make a shrub, this probably wouldn’t be recommended for people observing a no or low-sugar diet. Although I used less sugar, I still avoid adding shrubs or syrups to drinks before bed. If you’re trying to be more mindful of your sugar consumption consider using fruits, vegetables, or herbs to make water infusions. No additional sugar required.

Favorite recipe (that you tried from the cookbook/website): Rhubarb Shrub.

Did you alter the recipe or make any substitutions? If so, what were they?

Rhubarb is often paired with strawberries, so I combined Dietsch’s Rhubarb Shrub recipe (pg. 131) with his Strawberry Balsamic Vinegar Shrub recipe (pg. 166). This combination was also suggested by the Art of Natural Living website.

For the cold process, the fruit is generally macerated in sugar anywhere from two hours to three days. The sugar draws out the juices of the fruit and makes syrup. Then, the solids are strained from the syrup and vinegar is added and mixed well. I slightly deviated from the recipes and used less granulated sugar, and chose balsamic vinegar over white wine vinegar. I also left the shrub to macerate in the refrigerator for four days; stirring once daily.

Would you recommend this recipe? Absolutely, cheers!

Photo 01-Rose Bouquet.
Photo 02-Rose Petals.


Websites –

Blue Hawaii Mocktail Punch: Hawaiian Nonalcoholic Drink Recipes by Karen Frazier

Refreshing Hibiscus Mocktail / Cookie + Kate

Rose Milk Tea (Rose Tea Latte + Video) / Flavours Treat, Simple Vegetarian Recipes – this includes a recipe for Rose Syrup.

Strawberry Rhubarb Shrub / Art of Natural Living

Sweet Sunrise Drink by Colleen Graham / The Spruce Eats

The Nonalcoholic Sunrise Cocktail Recipe You Need to Try by Susan Bronson / Taste of Home

Videos –

Alton Brown’s Cocktail Time: Shrubs / Food Network – this video (2:21 min) demonstrates making a shrub using the hot process.

Books –

Aloha Kitchen: Recipes From Hawai’i / by Alana Kysar; photography by Alana Kysar and Brooklyn Dombroski.

POG (p. 210)

Plantation Iced tea (p. 210)

Cook Real Hawaiʻi / Sheldon Simeon with Garrett Snyder.

POG (p. 249)

How To Drink Without Drinking: Celebratory Alcohol-Free Drinks for Any Time of the Day / Fiona Beckett; photography by Nassima Rothacker.

Sea Breeze (p.72)

Hibiscus Aqua Fresca (p. 170)

H2Oh!: Infused Waters for Health and Hydration / Mimi Kirk; photographs by Victoria Dodge.

Infused Water: 75 Simple and Delicious Recipes to Keep You and Your Family Healthy and Happy / Dalila Turhuni.

Mocktails: Non-Alcoholic Cocktails with Taste and Style / Caroline Hwang; photography by Beatriz da Costa.

Strawberry-thyme cooler (p. 24)

Lemonade (p. 60)

Mojito (p. 68)

Bright and Sunny (p. 96)

Mocktails: More Than 50 Recipes for Delicious Non-Alcoholic Cocktails, Punches, and More / text and recipes by Richard Man; photography by Simon Bajada; translated by Gun Penhoat.

Peppery Aqua Fresca with Watermelon (p. 47)

Just A Spritz / Danielle Centoni; photographs by Eric Medsker.

Shrubs: An Old-Fashioned Drink for Modern Times / Michael Dietsch; foreword by Paul Clarke.

Zero Proof Cocktails: 90 Non-Alcoholic Recipes For Mindful Drinking / Elva Ramirez; photography by Robert Bredvad.

Grapefruit Julep (p. 62)

Imperial Buck (p. 65)

Hibiscus Tea (p. 119)

Quick Subject links to the Library catalog:

As a springboard you could search the keyword “Mocktail*” in the online catalog. Your results may be more relevant if you use the following Subject links:

Non alcoholic beverages.

Non alcoholic cocktails.