A Love of Shrubs

Drink mixers bring herbs and history together


Life-long lover of the flavor of vinegar, preferring vinegar-based salad dressings and salt and vinegar chips, BETHANY CARPENTER started Pomona Shrub Company to create and sell shrubs. These nonalcoholic syrups are made of a combination of concentrated fruits, aromatics, sugar, and vinegar. Shrubs are traditionally enjoyed as a component of a mixed drink.

“I took a few weeks to sit on the idea of starting this business and really considered whether this was a concept worth leaving my full-time job as a front-of-house restaurant manager,” she says. “I did research and started building a business plan. It took me two months from when the idea first came to me until I was standing at my first market.”

Carpenter’s extensive research on shrubs led to her specific process of shrub-making that has origins in seventeenth-century England. “I have a strong passion for vintage and historical things. Shrubs allow me to merge those loves. The creation of shrubs is an incredible opportunity to honor history and educate others,” Carpenter stated.

Carpenter originally envisioned her shrubs as mixers for cocktails and non-alcoholic beverages. Research presented a broader opportunity as a health beverage. “There are plenty of health drinks in which the flavor cannot be tweaked. The flavor is what it is. You enjoy it or you don’t, but consume it regardless of the health benefits. Shrubs are unique and can be tweaked to personal preferences, removing that potential compromise.”

Carpenter personally designed labels, ordered glassware, purchased ingredients, and produced her own shrubs. “I did plenty of work to ensure I was following all guidelines for producing and selling a consumable product. It was a physically and emotionally exhausting month for sure,” she recalled.

But Carpenter says it was love that was her true motivation for Pomona Shrub Company. “For a few years, I watched myself miss out on life’s tiny but special moments like birthdays, holidays with family in Pennsylvania, hangouts with friends, and lazy nights at home with my partner because I was working,” Carpenter says. “I looked at myself and the people I loved and took the leap. My emotional and physical well-being have improved, I’ve developed as a person and I have a glow to me that I’ve never seen before.”

Carpenter designs her own flavors, each infused with meaning and importance, considering color, seasonality, and availability of ingredients. Even the name of the company was carefully chosen. “I wanted a business name that was unique, relevant, and meaningful. Pomona is the Roman goddess of fruit trees, gardens, and orchards and is often associated with prosperity. The Latin word pomum means fruit. All my shrubs are fruit and herb-focused.”

Carpenter, who believes shrubs are for everyone, says it’s a future goal to offer shrubs in every color of the rainbow. From crafting cocktails to tasty nonalcoholic options, flavoring water or cooking, and kid-friendly drinks without the sugar, shrubs are the answer.

“The best part? You don’t have to be wildly enthusiastic about vinegar because shrub concoctions are created on preference. Want a more forward taste? Use more of the shrub mixer. Craving something a little more subtle? Use less shrub,” she says.

Carpenter encourages everyone to give it a try with this core recipe:

  • Fill glass with ice
  • Add anywhere from 0.5 oz. to 2 oz. of shrub mixer, depending on preference
  • Add 1.5 oz. of preferred liquor (skip this step if making a mocktail)
  • Top with club soda
  • Garnish with fresh fruit or herbs
  • For a more complex cocktail, add muddled fruit or herbs, simple syrup or bitters.

With so many options, Carpenter is often asked about her favorite. Her answer? “It depends! For water? Or a mocktail or a mimosa? There is really no incorrect pairing because it’s preference-based. That’s part of the beauty of using shrubs. You can’t get it wrong.”

The new home of Pomona Shrub Company opens in the fall in the Soda Pop district of Wilmington. In the meantime, Pomona Shrubs can be found at local farmers markets including Wrightsville Beach, Poplar Grove, Wilmington, and Carolina Beach Farmers Markets, and occasional pop-up events. The Green House Restaurant offers lemon-lime shrubs in a few drinks and Ceviche’s offers a glitter-infused pineapple sage shrub in a rum-based cocktail.

To view more of photographer Daria Amato’s work, go to dariaphoto.com

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Categories: Features