Behind the Bottle: Element [Shrub]
Welcome to our newest series, Behind the Bottle, where we interview the people behind some of the industry's best products to get an inside look at what goes on on the front lines. For this first installment, we had the pleasure of talking with Charlie Berkinshaw, Founder of Element [Shrub]. Normally, we'd introduce shrubs and how they're quickly making their way on the cocktail scene, but we think Charlie did such a fine job we'll just let him tell it!
Chris: Before we get into the story of Element [Shrub], can you give us a quick background on shrubs? What are they? How are they typically used?
Charlie: The etymology of "shrub" (in this context - not the bush) comes from the Arabic word sharab, meaning beverage, or to drink. It was a colonial way of preserving fruit using vinegar before refrigeration.
In practical terms, a basic shrub will consist of some kind of vinegar, some kind of sugar and some kind of fruit.
We use shrubs in one of three ways: cocktail mixers, non-alcoholic (mocktail) mixers with seltzer water and as a substitute for acid (i.e. red wine vinegar, lemon juice, etc.), or in cooking/baking.
Chris: We’ve been hearing a lot about them in the cocktail scene lately. What’s the best way for someone to get started using shrubs in their recipes?
Charlie: For cocktail purposes (and this may seem obvious), shrubs will be your "sour" or "acid" component with a twist. You can start by thinking about them similar to fresh citrus juice plus simple syrup - because 99% of the time shrubs contain some sort of added sugar. For example, we make a Lemon Mint Shrub. Think of it as a combination of lemon juice and simple syrup. With our Pineapple Turmeric Shrub, you can substitute it for pineapple juice or orange juice in a drink recipe. It's not necessarily replacing lemon juice with Lemon Mint Shrub with the exact proportions, but this is good way to conceptualize their role in a cocktail.
Chris: OK, now on to Element [Shrub]! What’s the story behind it, how did it all start?
Charlie: While most people who start shrub companies are bartenders, I started Element [Shrub] to create the perfect non-alcoholic drink for my wife while she was pregnant with our first child. She was looking for something (a drink) that had the complexity of the cocktail, was made with real ingredients, didn't have a lot of sugar, and of course had no alcohol. She was bored with water, tired of juices that were loaded with sugar, and soda had too many artificial ingredients.
At the time, we were working with a group that foraged local fruit in Cambridge, MA. One day after harvesting 400 pounds of crabapples, we were looking for new recipes for our bounty and came across the concept of shrubs.
After adding the shrub to some sparkling water, the result was a drink that satisfied every aspect of my wife's craving. The vinegar (apple cider) added savory notes to the fruit and spices to create a flavor that was complex and refreshing.
That was four years ago. Now we live in Arlington, VA, have two kids, have released four other shrubs flavors since we launched, and very recently came out with a line of ready-to-drink shrub "sodas".
Chris: What’s your favorite shrub that you offer and what’s your favorite way to use it?
Charlie: If I had to pick one, it would have to be our Honeydew Jalapeno. That said, the Blood Orange Saffron, our most recent addition to our lineup, is quickly becoming one of my new favorites.
I love the Honeydew Jalapeno with tequila or as a mocktail with fresh watermelon juice and a splash of seltzer. (Chris: mmmm)
I love the Blood Orange Saffron in a drink we call the "Vinegroni" - equal parts gin, Campari and Blood Orange Saffron Shrub.
Chris: How do you see Element [Shrub] growing or evolving over the next few years?
Charlie: We have just launched a line of carbonated, non-alcoholic, ready-to-drink shrub "sodas" that we call "Shrub & Club". Since we started doing this four years ago people have slowly come around to the idea that it's ok to drink vinegar, but there is still a lot we, shrub makers, need to do to educate people on how to use them. In a soda format, something that people are familiar with, and at $2.99, people are more likely (or at least we are hoping they will be) to try shrubs and enjoy them on a more regular basis.
In terms of our traditional shrubs, we are always experimenting, always looking to pair really unique flavors together in a thoughtful way, both from how we source our ingredients to how versatile and useful our shrubs can be in cocktails, mocktails and cooking.
Chris: What’s the easiest way for someone to get their hands on some Element Shrubs?
Charlie: Our website: www.elementshrub.com. We ship to all 50 states and will start shipping to Canada and Europe soon. We have just launched a new website that has over 100 recipes on it. You can find us on Instagram and all of the other socials @elementshrub.
Make Room for the Shrubs
After talking with Charlie we made sure to get our hands on some Element. We got the Lemon Mint Shrub and to shake things up a bit, we decided to make this one a mocktail. Along with the shrub, we added some muddled strawberries, and topped it off with seltzer. The color was perfect, and it tasted even better. Thanks for the great interview Charlie!
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