The west coast of England has many a tale of smuggling, little surprise given how sparsely populated it was several hundred years ago and how crenulated its coastline is - plenty of nooks and crannies to hide a whoop of shenanigans. Add it to the mix the general proximity to France and Spain, an obvious turning point to the south coast from inbound trade ships from the Americas and the recipe is nearly perfect for pirates and privateers alike.
The drill was to acquire some booze - typically moved about in 180 to 235L wooden barrels, weighing 360 plus kg. Think that through - that is not an easy thing to move about or hide… it's a tough job. And as such a tough job, the gain must have been great and if their gain must have been great, someone else's loss must have been comparable. Their gain was the taxman's loss, which clearly means even wayback when the tax take was massive, so people would chance their lives on wrestling large objects in difficult circumstances from water to shore to customer, with the risk of exile to Australia, the gallows or prison as a possible outcome. I think that throws more light on historical socio-economic conditions than any extended essay could.
Crumbs, I hear you say, this is some backdrop for a cocktail! And it is. Let's cut to it. Smuggling in the west had a particular process to it. Once you had your barrel, you'd general avoid being caught with it. You might submerge it offshore until such time as you could land it. Here in lies the rub; the barrels weren't the greatest. Modern day one's are great, once swollen during prep they are impervious to liquid but permeable to gases. The old ones were basically leaky. Booze leaked out and when submerged in sea water, sea water leaked in - fouling the booze. But when you are a smuggler and have risked life and limb, no salination is going to deter you from making a piece of silver or two from selling your ill-gotten gains and equally from the buyer of the contrabands perspective, if you could grab a barrel of finest French Brandy for a song, the fact you could season your chips with it, well that was kind of a bonus and no reason to look a gift-horse in the mouth. And this is where shrub comes to the rescue. A shrub, formerly a sharab, was typically a mixture of citrus fruit, vinegar and sugar. The last two ingredients used to preserve the first. Often added to various alcoholic preparations to modify taste. Shrub was added to rum most often to make it palatable after hefty salination during its illicit path to one's glass. If however the barrel was brandy, hey shrub was good for that too.
The combination of rum and shrub is a great thing to try; its not often you have the chance to taste the past and - actually when we do in straight cuisine terms well sometimes we wish we hadn't. But modern day re-invented shrub and refined rum (minus the seasoning) actually is a rather great combination, as are shrubs alone.
The great thing about vinegar is that it accentuates flavour rather than modifies it.
We make three scintillating shrubs: garden rhubarb, raspberry and bay, and pink grapefruit, honey and ginger. Each is a flood of flavour and sense-tingling delight. If you don't want to mix them with alcohol don't; they have so much flavour they don't need it - and into the bargain the warmth of the vinegar will trix you into thinking you are sipping an alcoholic drink - so bin that naff so-called distilled non-alcoholic stuff and try something with some real flair.
If you do mix these with rum, they deliver spine-tingling fun fireworks and will put a big smile on your face. Give it a go. Life is about experience. I love them. Let me know what you think!