With Ready To Drink Shrubs, A Revolution-Era Beverage Goes Commercial

Drinking vinegar might sound more like an old-timey home remedy than a refreshing beverage, but it's actually both! Shrubs, a type of beverage made from fruit, sugar, and vinegar, have been around since at least the 18th century and were popular throughout the United States around the time of the American Revolution. (Even Benjamin Franklin had his own recipe.)

This delicious drink was all but forgotten until recent years when craft cocktail bars began sneaking shrubs of various flavors onto their menus. The sweet-sour dichotomy they provide is a powerful way to spice up a cocktail, but shrubs can also be consumed on their own as a tasty non-alcoholic drink. Made using a 1:1:1 ratio of fruit, sugar, and vinegar, shrubs are a great way to preserve fruit, and they've become pretty popular amongst curious home cooks and adventurous mixologists. But it's not until recently that commercially-produced shrubs have started making the rounds as a flavorful non-alcoholic drink or mixer.

Shrub for the road?

Around the U.S., small businesses have begun to package and sell shrubs made in the traditional style to a mass audience. Siren Shrub Co. in Wisconsin started selling shrubs as a way to celebrate local produce. It now sells both bottled shrubs marketed as cocktail mixers, and canned sparkling shrubs as ready-to-drink zero-proof bevs, in flavors like basil, Honeycrisp, and tart cherry.

Kansas City Canning Co., which began as a pickle company before branching out into other types of artisanal preserves, sells various types of shrubs. Try bottled smoked spiced pear shrubs and Meyer lemon lavender shrubs alongside small batch Bloody Mary mixes and candied jalapeños.

Element Shrub, a family business started by foragers, sells shrubs in flavors like blood orange saffron and pineapple turmeric, in bottles with friendly pharmaceutical-inspired labels that vaguely remind one of Vitamin Water. And Shrubbly, a canned ready-to-drink brand that exclusively sells carbonated shrubs, has put a wellness spin on its drinks, which it refers to as "superdrinks" (per Shrubbly). Most shrubs use apple cider vinegar as a base, which has its own history as a wellness culture obsession — and contributes to some of the health-oriented marketing of some shrub brands.

There are even beverage brands taking inspiration from the shrub flavor profile, like Schilling Hard Cider, which just launched a shrub-inspired non-alcoholic cider called Ground Control, made with apple cider vinegar and tart cherry juice.

Why shrub?

There's a common thread that runs between many of these commercial shrub brands. Several of them began as small DIY projects not necessarily intended to become commercial enterprises. The majority of these businesses are focused on sourcing local ingredients, even ingredients grown on their own family farm, as in the case of Shrubbly, or foraged, in the case of Element. A lot of these shrubsmiths got started by selling on a small scale, at farmers markets and local retailers. It's an ethos that harkens back to the homebrew-pickle-kombucha fever of the early 2010s, a fascination with old-fashioned methods and aesthetics in retaliation to mass-marketed products of dubious origin and quality.

What's interesting is how these brands have diverged from that point. While Siren Shrub Co. and Kansas City Canning Co. lean into a homesteader aesthetic, Shrubbly seems to be ready-made to fit an influencer niche and join the ranks of tepache and prebiotic sodas like Poppi as the next big wellness craze. And it could work. You'll notice that while the range of flavors created by these brands is broad, there's a similar willingness to experiment, in particular, by mixing sweet and savory ingredients that play into the tangy vinegar base.

The flavor possibilities and applications are endless. Shrubs could be a zero-proof refresher for pregnant mothers and their young children, an afternoon treat for the Goop crew, or the secret ingredient in the next trendy cocktail du jour. Everyone is welcome at the shrub club.