In Martinique, for as long as there has been rhum, there has been shrub, an orange-flavored liqueur typical to the island.
Most often labeled Shrubb by commercial brands—not to be confused with the vinegar-based mixers with roots in Colonial America—the liqueur has found a place on backbars around the world, most often for use in cocktails. But in its native country, shrub is as sure a signal of the holidays as eggnog, given that in the winter months its signature ingredient, oranges, are in peak season. According to Ben Jones, who heads up the import and marketing operations for Rhum Clément (which produces the well-known Creole Shrubb), many families have their own recipes, which require macerating spices and sun-bleached orange peels in rhum to toast the season.
Jones’ family operates much in that same way; they’ve been bottling a blend of rhum agricole, white rum, creole spices and orange peels since the 1960s at their distillery, which dates back to 1887. Though they’re hardly the only family to capitalize on their recipe (“All the distilleries offer shrub, historically, around the holiday season,” says Jones), they were among the first to offer it year-round, a practice that has since been adopted by six other distilleries on the island.
Here in the U.S., Clément’s Creole Shrubb quickly became a bartender favorite when it was first imported back in 2005, with bartenders finding it approachable in a variety of drinks. “Creole Shrubb pairs well with other citrus, any base spirit you can imagine, chocolate and Caribbean spices,” says Brad Smith, General Manager of New Orleans’ tiki bar Latitude 29. “The [rhum] agricole brings forward an enormous array of nuance that is absent from other orange liqueurs.”
So versatile is the liqueur that Smith asserts it can “take the place in any recipe that calls for Curaçao,” including, crucially, the Mai Tai. In his St. Lucian, a rare example of a stirred tiki drink, he mixes Creole Shrubb with dark rum, chocolate bitters and cinnamon syrup.
A few blocks away, at French 75 Bar, Chris Hannah offer a riff on the classic De La Louisiane subbing in Creole Shrubb (which he calls a more “rotund sweetener”) for Bénédictine and trading sweet vermouth for a dose of bitter Averna. The resulting drink, the Rebennack, is named for the one-time King of Mardi Gras’ Krewe du Vieux.
Up north at New York’s Employees Only, Dushan Zaric opts for Creole Shrubb in his beloved, tequila-based Ginger Smash. “I think it does help create a more three dimensional cocktail,” he explains. “It lends itself to complexity without being too overwhelming.”
For this reason, Creole Shrubb is a shoe-in with a number of other classic drinks, from Crustas to Champagne Cocktails to Sidecars. Says Jones, “[Shrub has] turned from a seasonal thing… to an annual liqueur that Martinique is really becoming famous for.”