Sours, shrubs & syrups

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I’ve fallen behind in sending these, sorry, but a reminder that you can also see me doing video tutorials over at Here’s a bumper edition to make up for it.

Before we begin, fill up your ice trays!


Sour is a wonderful word. Say it now, quietly, under your breath. Imagine the sharp hit of lemon, or the tang of sourdough. Food, and many drinks, need a hit of acidity, whether it’s a squeeze of lime on a fish finger taco, or the dry tickle of phosphoric and carbolic acid in an ice cold fat coke on a hangover.

Sours are a whole, simple family of delicious cocktails. You can make them with any spirit or liqueur and they will immediately satisfy; bubbles and a head like a pint of Guinness, and a rich balance that makes every ingredient work hard together. Here’s the simplest spec for a great sour cocktail.

50ml Spirit
Juice of half a lemon or lime (lime for rum or tequila, lemon for everything else)
15-20ml Sugar syrup (to taste)
10-15ml egg white or aquafaba

Shake it like a polaroid picture.

No, harder.

Shake it like you’re holding Philip Green by his ankles and getting every penny out of his pockets.

Now, dump it out into a glass. If you have fresh ice, pour it onto that, it’ll feel special, but you don’t need to.

Something longer? Make a punch. The Barbadian rhyme goes:

One of sour, two of sweet, three of strong, four of weak

I can’t make it any simpler than that.


To make our sour drinks not just palatable but delicious, we add a good chunk of sugar; that’s what’s that sugar syrup up above is for. The recipe? The easiest of all, a 1:1 simple syrup:

1 part water, 1 part white sugar (by weight)

Stir until the sugar is dissolved. Voila.

We’re aiming to balance our drinks in two directions: the strong flavours from the booze are tempered by dilution (weak) from our citrus juice, sugar syrup and melted ice, and the sweet and sour flavours are balanced by each other. But, like salt when we’re cooking, there’s a sweet spot, and thankfully nature has blessed us with citrus perfectly sized to make 2 cocktails at a time.

But what else can we do? Different sugars are great for different drinks. If you like old fashioneds, make a rich demerara syrup, that’s:

1 part water, 2 parts demerara

You might need to gently heat this one to get your dilution, but try not to let it boil. This is also great in rum sours, just remember to use half as much and shake a little longer to even out the dilution.

Got some sad prosecco or white wine sat around? Even if it’s on the turn, you can make a great ingredient with it, just make the 1:1 syrup above using the wine, and let it reduce by about ΒΌ on the hob. Add a pinch of salt and you can use it as a delicious cordial to go with soda, or try making a sour with it to the spec above, but with gin, vodka or tequila.

Do you have some sad herbs? V wilted rosemary because you’ve not got round to making that soup you thought would be easy? WHACK IT IN A SIMPLE SYRUP

Syrups will be good in the fridge for a couple of weeks, normally. You can add a slug of vodka to keep them fresh for longer.


Those canny Victorians weren’t just up to delightfully perverted sex stuff behind closed doors, they also had a big game in making delicious drinks. One of my favourite ye olde preparations is the shrub, or drinking vinegar. Yes, I know, it sounds grim.

But if you’ve got some fruit sitting around getting mushy, this is a perfect way to use it up and make a really exciting ingredient. 

Hot Method

Add equal parts (by weight) of

  • apple cider vinegar
  • sugar
  • fruit (berries are great, but anything will work well)

To a pan, pop a lid on it and let it simmer for around 20 minutes. Take off the heat and let it cool, then strain the liquid out, ideally with a double layer of cheesecloth/muslin, but even a coffee french press or a sieve will do. 

Cold Method

Take your equal parts of fruit and vinegar, pop them in a jar with a lid, give them a good hard shake, then leave for about a week. Strain at the end of the week and add the final equal part of sugar. Let the sugar dissolve but don’t heat the liquid, and then keep refridgerated.

I prefer the cold method as the fruit doesn’t get any ‘stewed’ flavour, but IANAL.

You can drink your shrub with soda, ginger ale, neat spirits or shaken into a cocktail (if you want to stick to the sour formulation above, replace the citrus and sugar with about 30ml of shrub. Blueberry shrub with white rum will absolutely change your life).

Well done for making it this far! Have a classic Every Cloud recipe for your troubles.

Sergeant Pepper

50ml Blanco Tequila
30ml Green Bell Pepper shrub (we juiced the peppers, then used equal parts ACV, pepper juice and agave syrup)

Shake and serve in a martini glass.