Vive Vinaigre!

The Shrubbery produces elevated and elegant takes on the age-old, vinegar-based beverage known as “shrub.”

STORY BY JAKE UITTI
PHOTOS BY CHARITY BURGGRAAF

Rebecca SerVoss thinks of it like she’s raising a toddler. Her business, The Shrubbery, which produces elevated and elegant takes on the age-old, vinegar-based beverage known as “shrub,” is only four years old. Like any parent, though, Rebecca is working day in and day out so that soon her business can stand on its own two feet.

“With each year, there’s more and more responsibility associated with my business,” Rebecca says.

The sweet and tart drink is experiencing a renaissance in bars and kitchens all over the Emerald City and beyond, and Rebecca is at the center of it.

The Shrubbery is a newborn, but the history of the shrub itself is long and storied. The drink originated in the Middle East, where it was called “sharab,” which means “to drink” (and is also the origin of the word “sherbet”). Shrubs were luxurious, sweet treats made with fruit juice, honey, and flower water, and poured on shaved ice.

Later, British importers added vinegar to the mix, changing the concept. And they used shrub to preserve fruit and flavor smuggled Caribbean rum. A cocktail mixer was born. 

Rebecca SerVoss

Rebecca’s foray into the shrub world was born of boredom with the non-alcoholic drinks she was sharing with friends. “I went to my computer and typed in ‘how to mocktail.’ I just started making shrubs for funzies.”

At the time, Rebecca held a corporate job at Expedia, but after she was laid off, she decided to go back to school and take up shrub-making on the side. 

She quickly put down the books and picked up The Shrubbery full time, starting her business in 2014. Soon after she launched, Rebecca began selling her shrub at farmers markets in Seattle, and each year thereafter, The Shrubbery has grown in sales and reputation.

It takes Rebecca about four hours to make a shrub. And she is quick to admit that her shrubs are a little different than others out there. While most are made with pressed fruit, which creates a lot of pulp waste, Rebecca purees her fruit, straining it to keep as much of the fruit’s components in her vinegary drinks. The result is a cloudier mixture, but a tastier one.

“By using the puree,” she says, “you’re getting a much richer taste, something that’s much more fruit-forward, thicker, and with a better mouthfeel.”

After pureeing the fruit, Rebecca mixes in cane sugar, water, and white wine vinegar. She says she often uses “fancy” vinegars like Chardonnay vinegar, Champagne vinegar, Cabernet Sauvignon vinegar, or balsamic. She eschews the use of white distilled vinegar, which is more common and cheaper, because of its harsh flavor. 

If you wish to make your own shrub-based drink, treat the shrub like a flavored syrup. For use in a mocktail, mix once ounce of shrub with five ounces seltzer water, adding some ice and, perhaps, a sprig of mint or another herb. Or for a shrub cocktail, mix one ounce of shrub with two ounces of spirits and three ounces of tonic, champagne, or soda.

Rebecca’s shrubs pack a punch. Sold in 16-ounce bottles for $18 (or online for $28, which includes shipping), her concoctions range from the complex Apricot Rosemaryto the cream soda–like Vanilla Pear to the homey Spiced Plum (“I like to think that one is so Christmassy. It’s like licking a Norman Rockwell painting,” Rebecca says). And while some shrub drinkers might imagine the vinegar-based stuff to be overpowering, the high-quality vinegar Rebecca uses brightens the drinks.

Each season, Rebecca produces new flavors for her growing customer base. She keeps just one flavor — Lemon Lavender — permanent year-round. Her latest experiment resulted in a Bloody Mary-inspired shrub called Kapow, made with tomato juice and spices, a new twist for brunch cocktails and yet another evolution in the business she created from scratch.

Rebecca sources as much of her fruit and herbs from local farms, including Tonnemaker Family Orchard, Martin Family Orchard, Hayton Farms, Schuh Farms, and Mair Farm Taki. “Being able to know our suppliers is part of our focus on food and community, which are things I really value in how I do business,” she says. “Plus it means everything is super fresh, and the peak of deliciousness when I use it, which makes for a better finished product.”

While she can’t get citrus like lemons and oranges locally, Rebecca partners with Letterpress Distillery to buy the citrus they use in their limoncello and arancello rosso. “All they need is the zest, so the fruit would otherwise be compost,” Rebecca says. “By selling it to us, we both get to make really great products and reduce waste.”

Today, you can buy Rebecca’s shrubs in shops, markets, and bars all over Seattle, including Witness in Capitol Hill and the Capitol Hill Farmers Market. And while The Shrubbery continues to grow, Rebecca has her sights on opening her own brick-and-mortar shop where people can play games, “nerd out,” and drink a few shrubs.

Until then, Rebecca is getting it done in her production kitchen, where she makes, bottles, and ships her beverages.  

“Owning my own business is simultaneously the most terrifying and thrilling thing I’ve ever done in my life,” she says. “It’s all about the idea of discomfort, right? You have to be comfortable with the fact that growth is uncomfortable. You can’t rest on your laurels if you want to be successful.”

Bring Us a Shrubbery

Rebecca SerVoss’s creations easily lend themselves to a cocktail. Here are her suggestions for building the perfect concoction. Makes 1 drink.

Ingredients

  • 1 ounce shrub, any flavor
  • 2 ounces spirits — anything you love!
  • 3 ounces mixer, such as club soda, ice tea, beer, champagne, tonic water, etc.

Optional Additions

  • 2–3 dashes bitters
  • 1/4–1/2 ounce fresh citrus juice
  • muddled herbs
  • 1/4–1/2 ounce honey or maple syrup

Recipe

Shake shrub, spirits, and optional additions in a shaker with ice. Strain into an 8-ounce glass, top with the mixer, and add fresh ice.

Using The Shrubbery’s Lemon Lavender, Rebecca recommends:

  1. shrub, bourbon, iced tea
  2. shrub, gin, honey syrup (Bee Local makes a lovely one), club soda
  3. shrub, blanco tequila, 3 dashes Scrappy’s Bitters Black Lemon, IPA (aim for something under 60 IBU)
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