Aspall has been touring the country in search of the very best shrub cocktail in the UK. Here’s what happened during the four heats, in Bristol, Brighton, London and Manchester...
Everyone knows vinegar’s good for sauces, marinades and drizzling over crunchy fish ‘n’ chips. But shrubs? Those were too often forgotten – until now. Leading cyder maker and vinegar producer Aspall has taken it upon itself to get bartenders all over the country creating delicious shrubs to use in signature serves, by way of a cocktail competition.
After the difficult task of shortlisting the entries, Aspall director and eighth-generation cyder maker, Henry Chevallier Guild, and Imbibe’s Gaëlle Laforest set off to go and judge the first two heats.
Mix it to win it
For the first heat, 12 semi-finalists stepped behind the bar at Bristol’s Flipside Cocktail Club, where owner Andy Dodd joined the judging panel. It was an impressive evening that set the bar high when it came to the flavour and balance of the shrubs created – and The Dead Canary’s Fitz Adams, Be At One’s Dan Bovey and Flipside’s own Harvey David all earned honourable mentions.
There could be only one winner though: Jenny Griffiths, from Cardiff’s Ten Mill Lane. Her drink used a beetroot and thyme shrub, its earthy and herbal flavours proving a great match for Ocho Reposado Tequila, in a brilliantly balanced serve.
‘This competition was the first time I’d played around with shrubs and it really allowed me to push the boundaries in experimenting with drinks,’ she said. ‘I’m so excited to win and to represent Cardiff in the final at Imbibe Live.’
In Brighton, six semi-finalists showed off their cocktails in front of a crowd of friends and guests at Bohemia, with general manager Lukas Pantucek completing the panel. Presentation was a big thing, with The Plotting Parlour’s Jake Goldstein being highly commended for his drink served on a cider barrel with a bunch of smoking hay.
But it was Ash Briggs (pictured left) from The Stillery at Benson Blakes Bar & Grill in Bury St Edmunds, just 25 miles from Aspall, who grabbed first place. His drink was refreshing yet full of depth, thanks to a botanical-infused beetroot shrub anda good glug of Aspall cyder.
‘Winning was totally unexpected; I’m very humbled,’ he said. ‘It will be nice to represent something that’s very local at the final at Imbibe Live.’
After the first two excellent heats in Bristol and Brighton, Chevallier Guild and Laforest were eager to see what the next two heats would bring.
The third city on the journey was London, where nine of the capital’s most renowned bartenders stepped behind the bar at Hawksmoor Spitalfields to present their shrub serves.
The creativity of the competitors was dizzying, with everything from a Ramos Gin Fizz twist and a pistachio shrub to drinks served out of carved apples and a glass garnished with Campari crystals. But ultimately White Lyan’s Zoë van der Grinten (pictured right with judges Clotilde Lataille, Chevallier Guild and Laforest) scored herself a place in the final thanks to her Queen Anne’s Lassi, made using a carrot and curry leaf shrub.
The final heat saw competitors from the North and Scotland take over Manchester’s Elixir Tonic and Treats for an evening filled with good chat and even better shrubs.
Judging proved difficult, but Ciaran Russell, from The Tippling House in Aberdeen, emerged as the winner. His guacamole shrub impressed with its originality, making for a generous, savoury drink with a nice floral dryness.
‘I wanted to play on the link between tequila and cider,’ he explained. ‘Both are misunderstood, but both are delicious when used and drunk well.’
Finally, Chevallier Guild and Laforest had the gruelling task of reviewing all the competitors to pick their wild card winner – eventually settling on Fitz Adams from The Dead Canary in Cardiff, who presented his Green Green Grass of Home cocktail at the Bristol heat (pictured right). He impressed with an inventive pea and asparagus shrub completed with gin and pisco that made for a balanced and refreshing drink.
Head to Imbibe Live’s Cocktail Lounge on 5 July to find out who will be crowned winner of Aspall’s #Shrubitup competition…
Oh my Darling Clement Thyme
Ten Mill Lane, Cardiff
Garnish: Pickled beetroot soaked in syrup and fresh thyme sprig
Method: Shake all ingredients with ice and a handful of fresh thyme then fine strain over cubed ice.
50ml Ocho Reposado Tequila
25ml fresh apple juice
20ml beetroot and thyme shrub
10ml lemon juice
2 dashes Bittermens Xocolatl Mole Bitters
5ml Green Chartreuse
The Summer of 1728
The Stillery at Benson Blakes Bar & Grill, Bury St Edmunds
Glass: Metal tin with Aspall label
Garnish: Mint sprig and beetroot crisps
Method: Shake everything on ice then strain into the tin. Top with ice cubes, then crushed ice cap.
50ml Aspall Organic Cyder
35ml Kamm & Sons
30ml beetroot and Suffolk honey shrub
2bsp ginger applesauce
Queen Anne’s Lassi
Zoë van der Grinten
White Lyan, London
Glass: Nick & Nora
Garnish: Orange distillate spray and a sprig of lovage
Method: Stir on ice, then single-strain into chilled glass. Top with Aspall Premier Cru Cyder. Spray and garnish.
25ml carrot and curry leaf shrub
25ml coconut oil fat-washed Colombo Gin
25ml soda water
30ml Aspall Premier Cru Cyder to top
The Carranza Clement Revival
The Tippling House, Aberdeen
Garnish: Discarded grapefruit
Method: Dry then wet shake. Double-strain into glass and serve in a treasure chest filled with dry ice.
40ml Don Agustin Reposado Tequila
25ml guacamole shrub
20ml pink grapefruit juice
15ml Yellow Chartreuse
5ml violette liqueur
The Green Green Grass of Home
The Dead Canary, Cardiff
Garnish: Strip of asparagus and grass coaster
Method: Shake all ingredients then double strain over block ice.
25ml pea and asparagus shrub
20ml Pisco ABA
20ml Chase Elegant gin
15ml lime juice
1 dash celery bitters
1 dash absinthe