Small Barrel Shrub Revives a 17th Century Soft Drink in the Modern Age

The brightly colored labels and sophisticated presentation has helped sell a seemingly esoteric concept to average consumers.

Founders: Aaron Weast, Abby Weast and Steve Jarvis

Year founded: 2017

Product description: Antiquated drinking vinegars updated for the 21st century.

Yearly sales: Declined to comment.

Is it profitable?: No.

Available at: Lamb's and Bales Marketplace, Green Zebra, New Seasons, Tender Loving Empire

Price: $11 for a pack of four

For Aaron Weast, getting sober had its pros and cons.

For one thing, it gave him the energy and clarity of mind to pursue some of the goals he'd been putting off, like starting his own business. On the other hand, the beverages he'd replaced alcohol with just weren't doing it for him.

"Having lost the ability to enjoy cocktails or beer or wine at social events," he says, "I was pretty quick to realize that this bottle of water or Diet Coke is really, really boring, and they get old."

In search of something more flavorful, and not loaded with caffeine and corn syrup, Weast began exploring drinking vinegars. That's when he stumbled upon the idea of a shrub, a 17th-century soft drink.

In the colonial era, early Americans preserved fruits in vinegar, and would use the leftover liquid to make naturally infused soda. With the advent of refrigeration, shrubs declined in popularity, though they've seen a revival in recent years as a digestif.

Weast didn't know any of that history when he made his first shrub. He'd been experimenting with balsamic vinegar, cutting it with coconut water and light carbonation, and it wasn't until he mentioned the concoction to a friend that he even learned what he'd made. But the flavor turned out to be just what he was looking for.

At that point, Weast recruited his wife, Abby, and Steve Jarvis, whom he'd previously worked with at Nike, to help with branding. While a handful of other companies in the U.S. bottle shrubs, most of them are sold as concentrates rather than standalone drinks, and even fewer use balsamic as its base vinegar—it's much more common to see apple cider or champagne vinegar. But the brightly colored labels and sophisticated presentation has helped sell a seemingly esoteric concept to average consumers.

"The education piece, about trying to find people that have been turned off by the notion of vinegar, is definitely a challenge that we have," Jarvis says. "Word of mouth is pretty big for us, and we definitely spend as much time as possible at different events. Being in front of people and creating ambassadors for the brand is something we've really been working on."

Guilty pleasure snack: "Not only am I not able to drink, I'm also on Weight Watchers, so my life's pretty miserable at it relates to that. But I do have a Brew Dr. Kombucha open in front of me right now."

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