In the days before refrigeration and freezers, preservation of bumper crops was key to surviving and making harder times as enjoyable as possible. In colonial America, one popular method to preserve fruit was to make a shrub or "drinking vinegar." The method was simple and effective: Take fruit accented with spices if you had them, cover it all with vinegar, and let it steep until all the flavors were properly extracted.
After the solids were removed, sweeteners were added, and then combined with water and often liquor to make a drink that refreshed and relaxed all at the same time.
While food preservation technology no longer necessitates shrubs, the reasons for their popularity can clearly be tasted in Shrub Runner ($10, Skipper Demerara Rum, strawberry-black pepper shrub, lime, gum syrup, nutmeg) at Serpentine.
Admittedly, I'm not always a fan of shrubs: often the distilled vinegar bite overwhelms more subtle flavors, but here there is enough acidity to perk up the drink without making you pucker.
A few sips in and you'll want to alert the town crier about this tipple.
2 oz. Skipper Demerara Rum
1 oz. Strawberry-black pepper shrub
½ oz. Lime juice
¼ oz. Small Hand Foods gum syrup
Freshly grated nutmeg
Combine all ingredients in a shaker with ice. Shake hard for seven seconds and strain into an Old Fashioned glass with a large fresh ice cube. Garnish with nutmeg.
Serpentine, 2495 3rd St. (at 22nd), 252-2000