We have enjoyed this peachy bourbon cocktail at our house all summer, ever since I first made the peach shrub. What’s that—you say peaches don’t grow on shrubs? True. The peach “shrub” that I speak of is an old-school concoction, otherwise known as a “drinking vinegar,” and though it was a popular way of preserving seasonal fruits back in Colonial times (or as far back as the Roman Empire, depending on whom you ask), the shrub is having a new moment, especially in the world of craft cocktails.
A shrub is a mixture of fruit, sugar and vinegar, usually in equal parts. You can either cook the fruit together with the sugar before adding the vinegar, which results in a jammy, compote-type flavor, or go the fresh route with raw fruit, which takes longer to develop but presents a more vibrant flavor in the shrub. I chose the latter, with enough cut-up peaches to measure a heaping cup. I stirred in a cup of raw turbinado sugar and left it in the fridge about 24 hours.
The second day, I strained the syrupy, macerated fruit (we put the chunky remains on top of vanilla ice cream) and mixed the liquid with a cup of vinegar—half apple cider (raw, with the “mother”) and half white wine.
My peach shrub was strong, tart and a little too “in your face” for the first couple of days, but after a week in the fridge, it had mellowed to become quite enjoyable in this cocktail, and even more so as the weeks have passed. The other ingredients in this drink are bottled-in-bond bourbon (this one has a very low percentage of rye in the mash bill, so definitely choose one on the sweet side), a fresh chunk of muddled peach and a couple of shakes of bitters. I like the ginger bitters, but if you can find peach bitters, they’re nice, too.
There’s one more thing that makes this cocktail special, and you’d probably never guess—it’s salt. You heard me. I’ve been experimenting with the concept to further balance a cocktail, and it is a pretty amazing thing. We bought this Himalayan pink salt swizzle stick back in February when we visited Asheville Salt cave, and as it turns out, a slight touch of this special salt brings this drink together, the same way a pinch of salt makes a dessert taste better. The things we learn!
We have tried several iterations of this libation over the summer, including an infusion of thyme in the peach shrub, minted sugar on the rim of the glass, on the rocks, and up in a Nick and Nora glass, etc. My favorite is simple and straightforward—bourbon and muddled peach, shrub, ginger bitters, no sugar rim, poured over the salt swizzle stick on a giant ice cube, and keep ‘em coming.
I decided to call this cocktail “Pompatus of Love.”
Now, I won’t make you wrack your brain to figure out why the name sounds familiar to you—it comes from the 1970s classic rock song, “The Joker,” by the Steve Miller Band. You know, right after he sings, “some people call me Maurice.” What you might not know is that the word pompatus is not really a word at all, but something that Miller misheard from a doo-wop song released two decades earlier. I’ll let you explore that on your own time with the help of Google and Wikipedia, because it is a story in itself.
And since you’ve already heard the Steve Miller version of the song at least as many times as I have, I’d like to introduce you to one of our favorite local artists who performs a terrific rendition of this song. Please click to play, while I tell you a little bit more about this peachy bourbon drink, and about our friendship with Colin Allured, the artist featured here.
I first met Colin almost 8 years ago, when he debuted his one-man act at a wine bar that I frequented. He mesmerized the entire room on that December night, even drawing the kitchen staff out to the front of house to see who was this guy, covering the vocals of everyone from Steve Miller to The Beatles to Justin Timberlake to Katy Perry—as well as plenty of his own (awesome) original music. From that night, I hardly missed an appearance by Colin at the wine bar or anywhere else, and Les quickly caught on as well when we began dating. Fast forward a few years, when Les conspired with Colin to play a very special song for us on an evening we had planned to celebrate my birthday—I say they “conspired” because the night took on a whole new meaning after Colin dedicated the song to us. That’s when Les popped the question and put a ring on my finger. Since then, we have followed our friend around to many venues, including the show where he recorded that version of “The Joker,” and I have no doubt that he will always be a part of our love story, in some way or another.
So what does all of this romance nonsense have to do with this bourbon cocktail, based on a peach shrub?
I named this drink Pompatus of Love because, to me, it embodies a little bit of everything that makes a romantic love relationship great. It’s intoxicating, just sweet enough, a bit tart and sassy, and slightly salty in a way that is unexpectedly addictive. As one of our July 4th weekend guests put it, “the first sip surprised me, but it’s growing on me.”
Yep. That’s the pompatus of love.
Pompatus of Love
- 1 small, fresh peach (for muddling)
- 4 oz. bourbon (use a high-proof, low rye version if possible)
- 1 oz. peach shrub* (see below)
- 2 quick shakes ginger (or peach) bitters
- large ice cubes for serving
- Place a chunk of peach (about the size of a walnut) into each rocks glass. Crush it with a cocktail muddler or the handle end of a wooden spoon. Place a large ice cube over the peach.
- In a cocktail mixing glass or shaker, combine bourbon, shrub and bitters. Add one cup of ice and stir or shake until the mixing vessel is frosty.
- Strain into glasses, garnish with slices of the peach.
- 3 or 4 ripe peaches, washed
- 1 cup raw cane turbinado sugar (white or light brown sugar works, too)
- 1/2 cup raw, unfiltered apple cider vinegar (such as Bragg’s)
- 1/2 cup white wine vinegar
- Peel and pit the peaches, and cut them up into chunks.
- In a medium bowl (choose one that has a fitted lid), combine the peaches and sugar, stirring until it begins to get syrupy. Cover and macerate in the fridge 24 hours.
- Strain peaches through a mesh sieve, catching the liquid in a bowl below. Discard the peach solids, or use them right away in some other dish.
- Stir the vinegars into the sweet peach syrup. Transfer to a sealable glass bottle and refrigerate up to 3 months.