Aspall Cyder - Cider and Vinegar

#ShrubItUp - the UK's first shrub cocktail competition

10th June 2016


​I think if you ask most people who know me, they would concur that I can be passionate / borderline geek / bore about what I do – usually it involves apples in one form or another. Fortunately, just enough of the passion seems to seep through to prevent narcolepsy within my audience, or a charge for the nearest exit.

My latest zone in – or zone out – has been shrubs; an ancient preserving method for fruit using vinegar, from which a delicious shrub or syrup can be made and added to water.

I’ve been shrubbing for 8 years; I wouldn’t say I have firm views on how it’s done – certainly, if you look back at the circa 6,000 years that humans have been using vinegar as the basis for a tasty, health giving and safe libation, it would fall under a loose heading of “anything goes”.

This pastime has been a steady interest over the years, but it has stepped up a notch in recent months as we decided to extend the reach beyond my kitchen, and challenge bar men and women up and down the country to give us their take on what you can do with this ancient preserving method. 

So we teamed up with Imbibe and set a challenge – to make a shrub based on Aspall Organic Cyder Vinegar which would then be blended as part of a cocktail. The taste of the finished cocktail would take nearly half the marks, the rest being fairly evenly distributed across appearance, technique, shrub quality (to be tasted separately) and knowledge of both Aspall, the history of shrubs and linking the two in a skillful and imaginative way. I was to be one of the judges. 

#ShrubItUp has become to date the most heavily over-subscribed competition Imbibe have ever run 

There would be 4 heats – South West, South East, London and The North. A winner would be chosen from each heat – plus a wild card from one of the regions – and these 5 would then compete in the Grand Finale at Imbibe Live in London. At stake – quite apart from the respect and praise of their peers – was a trip to New York, during which, time would be spent with the finest cocktail makers of the Big Apple. 

For me, the excitement was to be able to share my enthusiasm with like-minded souls, and not only that, I was sure I would learn a thing or two. I wasn’t really sure how the competition would be received – my deepest fear was whether or not anyone would actually enter...

Well, it turns out not only did people enter, but it is has become to date the most heavily over-subscribed competition Imbibe have ever run. Vinegar, that most ubiquitous of products, known and used for thousands of years, un-sexy in its own cupboard-loving way, was about to get a serious makeover, and a makeover from some of the most talented mixologists in the country. And I was going to judge the results. Oh, it’s often good to be a geek.