Shrubs first popped up in cocktail culture in the late 1800s and early 1900s when some would preserve the liquid in the bottom of a fruit barrel and use it as mixers. They lost popularity during Prohibition but are making a comeback as bartenders are increasingly using the blend of berries or aromatics, sugar and vinegar to enhance the flavor of spirits. Contributing to the movement, the new Atlanta-based Shrub & Co handcrafts three shrub flavors for those looking to spice up their libations at home.
The co-founders – Matt, a former chef at Holeman & Finch, and Juan, who has worked as a marketing consultant for companies like Coca-Cola and Anheuser-Busch – found that bartenders were making their own shrubs by hand, and they could create products to help fill that void.
After experimenting with different flavors for about a year, the duo decided on making grapefruit (their most popular), spicy ginger and tart apple. Shrub & Co uses all-natural ingredients that are primarily sourced locally. Matt and his wife handcraft each bottle in a shared kitchen and can make about 200 bottles in six to eight hours.
For home bartenders who might be more hesitant to add something extra to their favorite spirit, Matt suggests starting small and notes that shrubs will marry with any spirit. If you like bourbon, consider adding shrub, a splash of soda and lemon juice to it. Matt says it can make a drink more palate-friendly.
“One of the nice things about working with shrubs is that you can make a very layered and complex cocktail. You can also do things that are extremely simple,” says employee Deborah Marskey.
You also can add shrubs to beer, sparkling wine and seltzer water, or use them for sautés, in salad dressing, as a background accent for a soup, or to make a glaze or sauce for turkey, chicken and beef. “The culinary applications are really endless,” says Matt.