Martha Washington’s Secret Drink Recipe Isn’t for the Faint of Heart

Former First Lady Martha Washington definitely made herself memorable with this cocktail.

When George Washington’s wife, Martha Washington, inherited a handwritten cookbook from her mother-in-law after her first marriage to Daniel Parke Custis (sorry, George!), she was bestowed with some pretty unique recipes. Since she’s the most well-known person in history to receive the cookbook, it’s been aptly named Martha Washington’s Booke of Cookery.

Among the 550 recipes the cookbook contains—and there are some seriously good ones—one that stands out is Mrs. Washington’s shrub cocktail.

What’s a shrub?

It’s a drink you’ve heard your grandmother talking about but never asked how to make because of the, um, interesting name. A shrub usually contains three common ingredients—sugar, vinegar, and fruit—and is known for its acidic flavor. Although the drinks were popular during the 17th and 18th centuries, they’re seriously underestimated in today’s world. Read up on these 11 facts about George Washington you never learned in school.

Martha Washington’s secret shrub recipe

If you’re not a big drinker, Martha Washington’s shrub might hit a little harder than most alcoholic beverages. The tasty-but-strong key ingredients of her concoction include brandy, white wine, sugar, and lemons.

Here’s the original recipe:

“Take one quart of brandy and a quart of white wine, and a quart of spring water. Mix them together then slice 3 leamons, and put in with a pound of sugar. Stir these very well, cover yr pot close, and let it stand 3 dayes, stiring it every day. Then strayne it, and bottle it, and crush ye leamons very well inside it.”

Try crafting your own shrub cocktail

If you’re brave enough to try Mrs. Washington’s original version, hats off to you! If you’re looking for something a little lighter with the same taste as an authentic shrub cocktail, it’s pretty easy to make—and will only cost you about ten minutes and a handful of ingredients you probably have around your house.

Start off by making a classic shrub syrup like this one, which uses equal parts water, sugar, vinegar, and fruit. You can make it drinkable by adding a little seltzer or soda water or turn it into a shrub cocktail with some sparkling wine. Cheers! Next, check out these other 44 surprising facts you never knew about America’s first ladies.

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Taylor Murphy
A freelance writer well-versed in a variety of topics, with six years of experience writing print and digital content for newspaper outlets, online publications and magazines. My bylines have appeared on,,,,,, in Dr. Oz The Good Life and other best-selling national women's lifestyle magazine publications. I'm currently a freelance copywriter at Today's Business, a digital advertising and marketing agency.