Regarded for their alleged health benefits, drinking shrubs crafted from vinegar, fruit and sugar were all the rage between the 16th and 18th centuries. They took an unofficial hiatus but have recently regained acclaim among farmers’ market frequenters, health food aficionados and mixologists. Josh and Tomo Kramer first took an interest in shrubs when tasting Tomo’s mother’s drinking vinegar on a visit to Japan. The two now use their culinary knowledge — Josh, food preservation and process control, and Tomo, chef certification — to collaborate together and craft their own.
The duo has two shrub hubs — Maui Shrub Farm in Maui, Hawaii, and Cascade Shrub Farm in Bellingham, Washington — with one mission: to support local organic farms and bring “refreshing, local flavor” like hibiscus, blueberry and shiso to the people. Josh and Tomo gave us all of the juicy (and vinegary) details.
1) After you returned home from Japan, how did you get started?
Josh: We started making shrubs when we lived in Maui. After doing our first few farmers’ markets, we decided to take our shrub to Hali’imaile Distilling Co. [They] all loved our products and applauded us for making it locally. We worked with them to develop a few new cocktails using their spirits. We took those cocktails to the Taste of Wailea, served them to all the Maui foodies and realized then that we had something special.
2) How did you end up choosing Bellingham for your Northwest location?
Josh: I grew up in Bellingham. My family moved here [from Minnesota] when I was seven years old. I was raised in the mountains, skiing, hiking and climbing. Tomo and I lived in Maui for four years on and off but have now settled down with our son, Harley, in Bellingham.
Tomo: We love to hike and a mellow stroll in the woods is our favorite way to unwind. It is also great to have family and friends nearby. We really feel settled and at home in Bellingham.
3) Apple cider vinegar can be a bit intimidating for newbies, especially “the mother,” used in each of your shrubs. What do you tell first-timers?
Josh: We get some weird looks from people who think it must taste bad: It’s vinegar! We gently introduce them to our shrubs by showing them how we dilute it 10-to-one with water, [so] the fruit is the forward flavor. It is amazing how the vinegar [balances] and preserves the fresh fruit flavor.
Tomo: I tell people how in the 16th to 18th centuries it was a very popular drink. I also let them know it is more of a kombucha — or lemonade-type flavor — and is super refreshing.
4) What is your favorite recipe featuring a Cascade Shrub Farm flavor?
Tomo: Two tablespoons of our Raspberry and Citrus shrub simply mixed with sparkling water. [It is also easy] to make salad dressings, marinades and glazes. I also like to drizzle a bit on vanilla ice cream!
Josh: I love Moscow Mules. We developed the “Mule Deer” with 1 ¾ ounce Chuckanut Bay Distillery potato vodka, 1 ounce Ginger and Apple shrub and ½ ounce fresh lime juice. Top with sparkling water and garnish with crystalized ginger and a lime slice.
This article first ran in the Spring print issue of Sip Northwest. For the full story and more like it, click here.