Marianne pitting Hudson Valley cherriesAs she stood at a stainless steel table pitting just-picked bing cherries, Marianne Courville told us about the fruit shrub she makes at The Hudson Standard. The old-time syrup of fruit and herbs soaked in vinegar and sugar is a perfect fit for the abundant harvest of the Hudson Valley.  

A few years back, Marianne stumbled across a recipe for shrub, probably in a magazine (she can’t recall which one), and was immediately taken with the possibilities.  Mixed with seltzer or water, shrub syrup makes a refreshing, restorative, delicious drink.

Marianne thought that the time was right for a healthy, invigorating, non-alcoholic adult drink.  Made with perfectly ripe fruit, organic cider vinegar, and the best herbs and spices, this old-time thirst quencher, well known on the farms of New England for generations, was ready for a comeback.  

Shrubs and bittersHistoric shrub flavors have been updated at The Hudson Standard to include: Strawberry Rhubarb, Cassis Berry, Peach Lavender, Apple Coriander Maple, Pear Honey Ginger, and Concord Grape, along with a Spicy Switchel (shrub with the addition of ginger). The syrups come bottled, $20 for 16 oz and can be ordered direct from The Hudson Standard.

To make a shrub, mix one ounce of syrup with seven ounces of plain seltzer or spring water.  Your first whiff is of clean, fresh, tangy apple cider; but immediately the ripe fruit aroma cuts in and the herbs and spices follow right along.  Each bottling has its own clear gem-like color, from pale topaz to deep garnet with inviting and irresistible aromas. When you take a sip, the vinegar is there, tart and refreshing, but playing second fiddle to the complex fruit and herb flavors.  Unlike most soft drinks, the flavors The Hudson Standard peach lavander shrubgo on and on, long after you’ve swallowed, and even after the glass is empty.

You’ll want another glass, and anyone sitting nearby, enticed by the pretty color and tempting aroma, will ask for a sip.  Share, but then guard your glass carefully!

Standing in her shrub kitchen on the second floor of a period building in Hudson, NY, Marianne told us about the great local sources she’s found for fruit and herbs.  Local suppliers are able to provide any ingredient she may need, and the nearby Catskill forest is great for foraging.  In fact, there’s a conscious effort to use locally grown fruit while at the same time supporting farmers who push the crop envelope with things like ginger.

Ready to taste

Ready to taste

While Marianne continued to pit the cherries, hands stained red up to her wrists by now, her associate Emily lead us through a tasting of all the shrubs mixed with seltzer.  

The wine-colored Cassis Berry was fresh, fruity, and delicious. I’ll bet it would make a great Kir, too. Tart Strawberry Rhubarb made me think of spring, while the Apple Coriander Maple conjured up crisp fall days.  Concord grape is the only one that includes a blend of vinegars.  It makes a tasty Kir with rosé wine.  Peach Lavender and Pear Honey Ginger work year round.

Shrub is a versatile cocktail ingredient, too. With its bright fruit flavors and elusive vinegar notes, it mixes well with vodka, gin, rum, and bourbon.  Bartenders, excited about the possibilities of shrub, have created some recipes that are on The Hudson Standard website. Working your way through them all would be a good year-round project. Marsha mixed an ounce of the Peach Lavender syrup in her gin and tonic and had an instant hit on her hands.

Emily at the herb garden

Emily at the herb garden

Bitters was Marianne’s first foray into the beverage business.  Joining the cocktail renaissance, she began concocting bitters based on Hudson Valley ingredients and flavors.  She’s narrowed it down to four flavors in regular production:  Ginger – with woodsy notes and genuine ginger flavor; Three Pines – made from the spring-growth tips of local conifers for a burst of citrusy pine; Love Struck – based on an ancient Roman recipe including hyssop, thyme, pepper and ginger, which may or may not have romantic benefits; Catskill Masala –  nodding east with turmeric and tulsi.  When I asked Emily about tulsi, unknown to me, she went right out on their deck to snip a leaf from the window box.  Turns out it’s a member of the basil family.

Emily showed us how bitters are tasted in the trade – put a drop on the back of your hand, then lick it off.  A little packs a big punch, so you just put a few shakes in a cocktail.

Cheese at Talbot and Arding

Cheese at Talbot and Arding

If you find yourself in the hip town of Hudson, NY you can purchase the full line of shrubs and bitters at Hudson Wine Merchants.  Be sure to stop in at Talbott & Arding on the next block for fantastic cheese, baked goods, and prepared foods. We did, both for morning coffee with a muffin and later for lunch, as well as a Barkeater Buche goat cheese from Asgaard Farm for dinner that night.

Like all new food entrepreneurs, The Hudson Standard is searching for distribution. At the moment, there are no retailers in Connecticut, but you can order direct.  I’d start with a sampler of summer shrubs: Cassis Berry, Strawberry Rhubarb and Peach Lavender, perhaps.  You’ll want to re-order the Pear and the Apple, too – perfect as we head into Autumn.