Fruity and fresh twist on cocktails, sodas

Pomegranate soda at The Waterboy in Sacramento. Fruit-forward sodas and cocktails are gaining popularity.
Pomegranate soda at The Waterboy in Sacramento. Fruit-forward sodas and cocktails are gaining popularity.

Shrubs will grow on you – especially if you like fruit-forward refreshers.

“They have nothing to do with shrubbery or gardening,” explained Gabriel Aiello, creator of Sacramento-based Burly Beverages. “By definition, ‘shrub’ came from the Egyptian word ‘serub.’ That means ‘syrup,’ which means we accidentally named our product ‘syrup syrup.’ 

With more than 30 seasonal flavors, Burly Beverage’s Shrub Syrups have become go-to ingredients in craft cocktails for Sacramento bartenders. For example, Red Rabbit Kitchen and Bar uses Burly’s grape-clove shrub in its “B**** Better Have My Money” (which also includes rum, aquavit, spiced pear liqueur, benedictine, lime, bitters and absinthe). Localis serves Burly’s shrubs with seltzer as nonalcoholic sparklers.

Aiello also has tested his creations at special events. At a Meatless Monday pop-up dinner at Old Ironsides, Aiello recently sold more than 100 peach-honey shrub cocktails in two hours.

“The craft cocktail movement has really driven interest in shrubs,” Aiello said. “But we’re still educating consumers. These are syrups to add to other things; they’re not made to drink straight out of the bottle.”

In May, Aiello and his partner, Meg Myers, opened a Burly tasting room at 2014 Del Paso Blvd. in Sacramento. It’s open 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. Wednesdays through Sundays. Burly’s products also are available online at

“A shrub is actually an old-timey method to preserve fruit juice,” Aiello said. “In our part of the world, shrubs were popular in the colonial period, long before they had refrigeration. Fruit juice could spoil overnight. By combining that juice with vinegar and sugar, it could be preserved for 10 to 20 years or more. In the preserving world, a shrub is half pickle, half jam.”

In Sacramento, making shrub syrup is a natural outgrowth of farm-to-fork movement, he said. “It’s farm to fizz.”

When creating his shrub syrups, Aiello starts with a combination of equal parts fresh juice, vinegar and sugar. Apple cider vinegar is the standard ingredient, but he also uses white wine, red wine or balsamic vinegars as he blends complementary flavors. For sugar, he sticks to mostly turbinado or demerara sugar (often marketed as raw sugar). He adds more flavor notes with spices and herbs.

“Our flavors are hyper-seasonal,” he said. “I’m just starting to make my peach shrubs.”

Burly’s most popular flavors are pomegranate-pink peppercorn, grape-clove and pineapple-nutmeg. Not coincidentally, those shrub syrups also make great cocktail mixers. The pomegranate-peppercorn combo, for example, is a spicier twist on grenadine. A 16-ounce bottle of shrub syrup ($21.95) makes up to 32 cocktails and 16 to 20 shrub sodas.

For nonalcoholic shrub sodas, Aiello recommends one ounce syrup to eight ounces seltzer, club soda or mineral water.

“What’s nice about syrup, it allows you to vary the drink to your own taste,” he said. “Want something lighter? Use less syrup. Add a dash of bitters to up the flavor.”

The vinegar component gives these fruity beverages an added benefit, Myers said.

“I like the whole probiotic aspect of shrubs,” she said. “They’re healthier.”

The focus on shrubs and other fruit- and juice-based drinks follows a larger national trend. When it comes to cocktails, “fresher and healthier is better,” according to Chilled magazine and the Bacardi Trade Advocacy Portfolio Team, which surveyed bartenders and bar managers for its annual trends report.

More bartenders now make their own fresh-squeezed juices, syrups, shrubs and sodas, using locally grown produce and health-conscious ingredients, the experts said.

“They are embracing this idea and taking it to the next level, not only to ensure that whatever makes up their drink is delicious and fresh, but that those ingredients are better for the body as well,” wrote Hillary Choo-Jaroschy, a member of Bacardi’s team of experts.

In addition, frozen cocktails have become chic again with bartenders putting their own unique spins on chilly drinks.

One fruit in particular is having a cocktail renaissance: banana. That’s partly because of its year-round availability, but also due to the resurgence of popularity in tiki cocktails.

Bringing back memories of “South Pacific” or maybe Elvis in an aloha shirt, a tiki cocktail uses fruit as part of its crucial sweet-sour combination and to underscore its tropical roots. The basic formula is immortalized in a familiar rhyme: One part sour, two parts sweet, three parts strong, four parts weak.

Martin and Rebecca Cate’s fun-filled “Smuggler’s Cove: Exotic Cocktails, Rum and the Cult of Tiki” (Ten Speed Press, 352 pages, $30) explores the many variations on that basic recipe – plus a lot more. The Cates are the founders and owners of Smuggler’s Cove, the popular San Francisco bar. The book, a celebration of all things tiki, recently won the James Beard Foundation Book Award for best beverage book of 2016.

According to the Cates, the “sour” in tiki cocktails usually is fresh-squeezed citrus or passion fruit. The sweet comes from sugar-based syrups such as simple syrup or grenadine as well as honey or maple syrup. The strong is, preferably, quality rum. The weak: pineapple, seltzer and/or ice.

Other fruit or juices popular in tiki cocktails include guava, lychee, mango, papaya, tangerine, tamarind and peach. (All would come under “weak.”)

Modern craft cocktails use a simpler formula that’s also incredibly flexible and fruit friendly: 2-1-1. That’s two parts base spirit, one part sour, one part sweet. The most typical sour-sweet combination is fresh lemon juice and simple syrup, but that’s only for starters.

Try fruit-based syrups to immediately add more flavor. Or muddle fruit with the alcohol and strain. Want something a little less potent? Top off with seltzer, mineral water, club soda, ginger ale or lemon-lime soda.

Made from fruit, vinegar and sugar, shrub syrups offer both sweet and sour in one ingredient. That’s part of why they’ve become so popular with bartenders.

But shrubs don’t need alcohol to make a good drink.

“Shrubs bridge that gap between when sodas were tonics and the pleasure beverages we know now,” Aiello said. “We found a happy window between health and flavor.”

Debbie Arrington: 916-321-1075, @debarrington

Shrubs as mixers

Gabriel Aiello of Burly Beverages in Sacramento suggests these pairings of shrub syrups with alcohol to create killer cocktails. The same combinations of complementary flavors also work when experimenting with fresh fruit or homemade shrubs.

▪ Tart Cherry-Cinnamon with whiskey, bourbon, brandy, scotch, vodka, gin or prosecco

▪ Peach-Honey with whiskey, bourbon, brandy, vodka or prosecco

▪ Black Plum-Elderberry with whiskey, bourbon, vodka, gin or champagne

▪ Lemon-Jalapeño with tequila, vodka, gin or champagne

▪ Kiwi-Habanero with tequila, mezcal, scotch or prosecco

▪ Strawberry-Chipotle with whiskey, bourbon, scotch, mezcal, tequila, vodka or prosecco

▪ Blueberry-Rosemary with whiskey, bourbon, brandy, mezcal, tequila, gin, vodka or champagne

▪ Blood Orange-Beet with tequila, vodka, gin, rum or champagne

▪ Pineapple-Nutmeg with tequila, rum, vodka, whiskey, bourbon or champagne

▪ Grapefruit Brulee with tequila, gin, vodka, rum or champagne

▪ Pomegranate-Pink Peppercorn with gin, rum, vodka, tequila or champagne

▪ Spiced Cider with whiskey, bourbon, brandy, vodka or prosecco

▪ Pear-Ginger with whiskey, bourbon, vodka or champagne

▪ Grape-Clove with gin, bourbon, brandy, vodka or prosecco

Hopped Up On Pineapple or You’re A Nut, Meg

This recipe comes from Gabriel Aiello and Meg Myers of Burly Beverages, using one of their favorite locally made shrub syrups. “We prefer Track 7’s Panic IPA or Bike Dog’s SanDog Pale Ale,” said Aiello. This will make approximately five cocktails.


2 ounces white rum

2 ounces spiced rum

1 ounce amaretto

5 ounces Burly Beverages Pineapple-Nutmeg Shrub Syrup

20 ounces IPA or pale ale

In large pitcher, combine rum, amaretto and shrub; stir well.

When ready to serve, add beer and gently stir to combine.

Pour over crushed or small ice cubes.


Mix up this classic brunch favorite by trying different juices. In addition to the standard orange juice, cranberry or mango juice, experiment with other citrus juices such as tangerine or grapefruit.

Makes 10 servings


2 cups fresh orange juice, cranberry or mango juice

1 bottle chilled champagne or prosecco

Citrus slices for garnish

Divide juice equally among 10 champagne flutes. Fill flutes with champagne and add a garnish of orange or other citrus slice if desired.

Strawberry daiquiri

Try this with watermelon instead of strawberries.

Makes 1 serving

2 ounces light rum

2 tablespoons lime juice

1 tablespoon triple sec

 1/2 teaspoon superfine sugar

1 cup ice

5 strawberries, plus 1 extra for garnish

Combine remaining ingredients in a blender at high speed. Pour into a Collins or margarita glass or other tall stemmed glassware. Garnish with the reserved strawberry and serve with a straw.

Ramos gin fizz

According to legend, this famous drink featuring three citrus flavors was created in the late 1880s by Henry Ramos in his bar at Meyer’s Restaurant in New Orleans. The recipe calls for orange flower water, found in liquor stores or Middle Eastern markets. Use this basic recipe as a starting point to experiment with other fruit juices and shrub syrups.

Makes 1 serving

2 ounces gin

3 drops orange flower water

1 egg white

1 teaspoon bar sugar or superfine sugar

2 tablespoons lemon juice

1 tablespoon lime juice

2 tablespoons cream

Soda water

Shake very vigorously for at least 1 minute. Strain into a tall, thin glass, or a very large old-fashioned glass, and top with some soda water. Stir.

Fruity margaritas for a crowd

Instead of packaged frozen fruit, freeze sliced fresh fruit. Use 1 1/2 cups fresh fruit mixed with 3 tablespoons sugar before freezing.

Makes 8 servings

1 can (6 ounces) frozen limeade concentrate, slightly thawed

1 box (10 ounces) frozen strawberries, peaches or blueberries in light syrup, slightly thawed, but not drained

3 cups cold water

1 cup tequila

 1/4 cup triple sec

Place limeade and fruit in a blender and blend on high until smooth. Add water, tequila and triple sec; blend on high until smooth. Pour into a plastic container, cover and freeze until slushy. Serve in margarita glasses rimmed with sugar.


The ultimate peachy refresher, a Bellini is a lot like a mimosa, but with peaches, nectarines or other stone fruit. White peaches make the best Bellini.

Makes 1 serving

1 white peach or other stone fruit, pitted

 1/4 cup simple syrup

 1/2 cup prosecco

Puree peach (peeling optional) in a blender. Add simple syrup; whir briefly to combine. Pour peach puree mixture into a champagne or Collins glass. Gently add prosecco. Serve.

Banana daiquiri

Bananas, rum and sugar are perfect for a tiki cocktail night. This works with frozen bananas, too. Recipe adapted from The Food Network.

Makes 2 servings

1 banana

 1/2 cup coconut milk

Juice of  1/2 lime

 1/4 cup sugar

3 ounces white rum

3 cups ice

Put all ingredients in a blender and process until smooth. Serve in tall glasses; paper umbrella optional.