Alibi V.27 No.12 • March 22-28, 2018 

Food Interview

Monique Carr Makes Shrubs

Spellbound Syrups is popularizing the fruity, probiotic drink

Monique Carr
Monique Carr teaches students how to make shrubs at a workshop
Alejandro Arballo

You may have noticed a new kind of drink showing up on menus over the past couple of years: shrubs. A shrub is any drink made from a vinegar-based syrup—usually a soda or a cocktail—but the word can refer to the syrup itself, too. Mixologists at Sister and Still Spirits have mixed these syrups into cocktails, and Prismatic Coffee, Vinaigrette and The Shop all have shrub sodas on their menus as well.

What’s the appeal? Well, there’s the probiotic content of the vinegar, for one. I also appreciate that they’re non-alcoholic mixers, and that they come in great herb and fruit flavors like hibiscus/mint/ginger and honeydew/cucumber/cardamom. Plus, with warmer weather moving in lately, I’m looking forward to drinking anything cold and refreshing.

Most of the shrubs you’ll find here in Albuquerque are made by one person: Monique Carr, the woman behind Spellbound Syrups. What started as a hobby in 2015 quickly became an obsession for her, and then a business. She now offers workshops in making shrubs at home, and is working on getting her wholesale license to sell her syrups in bulk to restaurants and bars. This year has been busy for Carr, and it doesn’t look like it will be slowing down anytime soon.

Despite her busy schedule, Carr was able to answer some questions about Spellbound Syrups and her favorite flavors to make into shrubs. On the facing page, find a simple recipe for making shrubs at home, also provided by Carr.

Alibi: When did you first start making syrups? How did you get into it?

Monique Carr: I started making syrups in 2015 sometime for myself at home. My partner at the time would frequent the library at least once a week. He would return with a heap of books, which would lowkey annoy me. One day he brought me a book he thought I’d have interest in. The book was Shrubs by Michael Dietsch. I used this book as a reference when I first was experimenting and learning. But making shrubs quickly became very natural for me and it wasn't something I had to think about very much, ideas for flavor layering easily rushed in and out. At the time, I was working at a brewery part-time and had just graduated from my UNM undergrad program and decided I wanted another job. I had heard about this roasting facility and coffee shop that would open in the Sawmill district. Prismatic Coffee focused on showcasing their roasting capabilities by bringing out the beans’ characteristics according to the region and processing methods by their roasting techniques. They had only a few drinks on the menu and asked me to make a shrub for their grand opening. The shrub was a pear ginger shrub and it was a total success—it sold out at the opening. So Loren, the owner of Prismatic, asked me to run a beverage program there permanently. I made a small batch of syrups, usually a different flavor once a week, and that was where I had my greatest learning curve. I was able to develop a palate for shrubs and really streamline my process there.

What are some of your favorite flavors to mix into syrups?

Favorite flavors to work with are all local and seasonal flavors, meaning that my favorite shrubs are those made with ingredients that I've harvested myself or sourced from local farmers/growers. I’m always excited for rhubarb to be in season in N.M., it’s usually grown in southern New Mexico. Cherries from Velarde in northern New Mexico, plus beet and piñon are a favorite combination of mine. We had a very generous yield for peaches this past summer and you can find so much diversity in the fruit—each tree is different. You can find some peaches that are more savory/citrusy and others that are sweeter with hints of strawberry. The range in color is also expansive: You could have a yellow, brown or even magenta-colored syrup from peaches. I often infuse my vinegars with local mint or rosemary. I also use dried herbs and spices to infuse vinegars: cardamom, vanilla pods, rose petals, cinnamon and peppercorns. Oleo saccharum is a process where you infuse the sugar you’re using to macerate with citrus peels—fresh flowers and vanilla pods would work too. Ginger is a fun root to grate into your macerated fruit to infuse overnight. I do this with hot peppers too: serranos, jalapeños and poblanos.

Where/how can people buy your syrups?

I am currently in the process of acquiring my wholesale license so that I can package my product as a concentrate (syrup) and as a soft drink (diluted version in bottles) to sell to restaurants, bars, spas, breweries, coffee shops, grocery stores and retail stores. I have a bulk wholesale license, so a few places will carry my syrups and use them as an ingredient (usually will sell as a soda or cocktail). Sister, Still Spirits and The Shop will have shrubs available on their menus. I often do catering and pop-up events as well. These events are my favorite to do. I do collaborations with breweries—Steelbender is the next brewery collaboration to happen. To stay in the loop with events and places that carry my product follow my Instagram: spellbound_syrups, or Spellbound Tonic Syrups on Facebook. My website will be up and running this summer.

Why do you think shrubs are becoming so trendy these days?

I think shrubs are appealing because of the slow food movement. People are interested in handmade, small-batch products again—simple as that. Shrubs, when made properly, should stimulate the entire palate. You should have a sweet, savory, tart, earthy, spicy, herbaceous and aromatic syrup. Moreover, shrubs are a healthier, more sustainable product to consume; by using a bulk product you reduce the amount of waste you produce. People are also attracted to probiotic raw food/drink products. Apple cider vinegar is known to balance your sugar absorption, to help improve cognition and to help maintain the probiotic biome in your belly. Shrubs have diverse uses. You can make popsicles with them, dressings, you can brighten an espresso tonic with them, blend with beer, wine, tea, etc., top your ice cream with them. People often drink them as an aperitif and intermezzo to prep the palate and belly for food consumption, as the acidity in a shrub stimulates your salivary glands.