Food & Drink » Swirl

Shrub and Shine

Cocktails lighten up for summer

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The first time I heard about the shrub, my first thought was, "How long is it until I'm not hearing about this anymore?" Like curiously shaped mustaches and home pickling for hipsters, this rediscovered, centuries-old method of making rotten lemonade when life gives you rotten lemons sounds a bit twee—maybe an eight on the twee scale, which dares not go to 10. Yet the shrub abides. And it's got company: the shim.

A shrub might smell like fruit fly heaven, a bowl of pretty peaches left too long on the table and busily liquefying from the bottom up, but this is exactly the point, according to Gillian Helquist, fermentation bar manager at Healdsburg's SHED. It's a concoction of fruit, vinegar and sugar, a way to "capture the essence of the season and then have it six months later," says Helquist. But a shrub alone is not a party.

Enter Jardesca. I'd been hanging on to a sample of this smartly packaged yet confounding wine since October, until it was helpfully poured for me earlier this month at SHED. There, Jardesca cofounder Marcus Seiden explained that while they didn't create their product with shrubs in mind, shrubs mix well with this light, aromatic quaff.

At which point it becomes a shim, according to Dinah Sanders. Sanders coined the term "shim" for a low-alcohol cocktail because there wasn't a good name for this category. A shim keeps a table from being wobbly, "and people, too," says Sanders, whose 2013 book The Art of the Shim: Low-Alcohol Cocktails to Keep You Level celebrates the small pour. Illustrated with darkly saturated images of enticing cocktails, the book offers simple recipes mainly based on sherry, vermouth and apéritif wines that emphasize quality ingredients over getting hammered.

Jardesca California Aperitiva ($30) looks like your average Pinot Grigio in the glass, and is also best served on ice—but its perfume is a thing apart. Bay laurel, pink peppercorn, and grapefruit peel are the only listed ingredients—seems like there's coriander and vanilla bean, as well. Fortified to 18 percent alcohol with eau de vie made at Mountain View's Essential Spirits, it's on the sweet side and includes Alexander Valley Viognier among three grape sources. If you've had the French aperitif Lillet, you know what to do with this: peel off the Zork closure and have it on a warm summer evening with a splash of soda and mixer—extended pinky optional.

Learn how to mix low-alcohol drinks to maximum effect with Gillian Helquist at the "Shrubs and Shims" workshop on May 23, 11:30am–1pm, at SHED, 25 North St., Healdsburg. $75. 707.431.743.

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