Tuesday, March 12, 2013

For the Love of Shrub: INNA Jam’s Vinegary New Project

By Luke Tsai
Tue, Mar 12, 2013 at 12:00 PM

On a recent Tuesday afternoon, I sat down with Dafna Kory, the proprietress of the Emeryville-based jam producer INNA Jam, to throw back a few shots of vinegar.

Well, that’s not exactly right. What Kory in fact set before me were several thimbles worth of shrub: a kind of syrup that she makes with equal parts vinegar, sugar, and fresh fruit. And though I did sip some of it straight up, mostly I drank it as Kory intended, mixed with seltzer water to create fruit-flavored sodas that struck a great balance between sweet and tart — as refreshing a cold beverage as one could hope for on a warm day.

Kory has been tinkering with the shrubs for the past several months, and she’s now developed — and bottled — seven different flavors, each corresponding to one of her existing jams: apricot, fig, Meyer lemon, quince, raspberry, strawberry, and tayberry. They’ll all be available for purchase ($15 for a 375-mL bottle), both online and at INNA Jam’s commercial kitchen facility in Emeryville (1307 61st Street), starting on Wednesday, March 20 — the first day of spring.

A long-forgotten staple of colonial-era cocktail guides, with roots in the ancient Middle East (the word comes from sharab, meaning “drink” in Arabic), shrub has been fashionable among trendsetting mixologists for the past couple of years. Until recently, the Emeryville pizza bar Hot Italian served a line of cocktails mixed with seasonal house-made shrubs: a spicy blackberry jalapeno version and another made with honey tangerines (and I’m told a cocktail called the Gancino — vodka, lime juice, ginger beer — still features shrub). Just down the road, Prizefighter has a couple of non-alcoholic shrub sodas on its menu.

What you don’t see much of, however, is shrub that’s bottled for home use — for mixing your own cocktails or, as Kory prefers, for making excellent fruit-flavored sodas. Kory explained that she became interested in shrub because she likes tart drinks, but also because making it allows her to preserve more of the fruit and to incorporate parts — the cores, for instance — that she can’t use for jam-making.

“It’s a jam pickle,” she said.

For her shrubs, Kory first adds sugar to the fruit — to macerate it, essentially, coaxing out as much juice and flavor as possible. Then she adds apple cider vinegar and cold-cures the entire mixture in the fridge for several months. To make a soda, she mixes the shrub with seltzer at roughly a 1:5 or 1:6 ratio, though of course you can adjust to your own taste.

The first time Kory served the sodas, pre-mixed, was at last year’s Eat Real Fest, and she recalled that nearly every customer had the same reaction: “Almost everyone said, ‘Hmm … interesting,” and then they’d sort of nod their head and say, “I like it.”

That about sums up my reaction, too. When I tried these freshly mixed shrub sodas, I was pleasantly surprised that the vinegar flavor, while it packed a bracing punch, wasn’t at all harsh. I loved the subtlety of the apricot soda — the fruit flavor more of an aftertaste than anything. The quince soda tasted like it had been perfumed with a particularly floral variety of honey. And, my personal favorite, the raspberry soda was as bold and true-tasting an embodiment of that fruit as you could hope for in a carbonated beverage.

Customers might find other uses for the shrubs as well, Kory noted: The apricot or the raspberry shrub would make a good base for a salad dressing. The strawberry would be excellent spooned over vanilla ice cream. And the Meyer lemon shrub, because of the subtle bitterness from the fruit’s rind, is especially well-suited for cocktails.

Kory will host a party at her Emeryville kitchen on Saturday, March 23 to celebrate the release of the shrubs. If you’ve never tried shrub before, this would be a good opportunity to taste a few different flavors before you decide to drop $15 on an entire bottle.

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