blackberry + rosemary and cherry plum shrubs


— barrio coffee collective | sam, duncan + dan —
59/30 lonsdale street, braddon

Shrubs. Switchels. You heard it here first. Why hasn’t this thing caught on yet? Imagine a bright, mouth-puckering, saliva-inducing, sour-tart-sweet, tongue smacking tang. In liquid form. It’s better than cordial, not as creepy as kombucha and, according to the ancient romans, pretty good for you if you want to get all julius caesar and invade the mediterranean and half of egypt.

At their most basic, they are vinegar syrups that are used as mixers, both hard and soft. A switchel is essentially a ginger syrup not unlike ginger beer or root beer. Shrubs are fruit-based and were originally a way of preserving excess late season harvests, particularly in colonial america. No one seems to understand the difference between the two, so the terms are often used interchangeably.

shrubscloseup shrubsupright

Because the basic ingedients are nothing more than fruit, sweetener and vinegar, the combinations are pretty much endless. Any fruit in season + your choice of sweetener (sugar, molasses, honey, agave syrup, stevia if you swing that way) + quality vinegar (red wine, white wine, balsamic, apple cider) and you got a shrub going. The trick is to match all three to complement and balance to your taste and you can take it anywhere you want. Hell, you can get all creative and throw some aromatics in there if you want.

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The boys at barrio coffee collective in braddon know where it’s at. All summer, owners sam, dan and duncan have been experimenting with these tart old fashioned syrups with ingredients like crabapples, orange rind and coconut vinegar.

If that sounds overly wholesome, it probably is. But to be honest it fits right in with barrio’s super simple, semi-industrial, pared back vibe. In fact these guys tick pretty much every box when it comes to doing shit right. Specialty-roasted? check. Fair trade? check. Locally-sourced, seasonal produce? check. Simple, well-crafted menu? check. Annoyingly attractive? check (seriously, if ryan gosling, jake gyllenhaal and john snow decided to open a wholefoods cafe in suburban canberra, this is what it’d look like). And don’t get us started on their small-hold, gender equity co-op sustainable development democratic ethiopian beans.


So by the time you have finished your coffee and avocado toast, you should feel deservedly good about having left the world in a better place. You could walk out the door and smugly punch a puppy in the face and still be ahead for the day.

There are plenty of reviews out there of barrio’s coffee and food. The guys know their stuff and everybody knows they know it. Our recent obsession with pickling and preservation, however, led us straight to their sodas and switchels. They’re ahead of the curve on this one and they use what they can get their hands on: seasonal fruits from a nearby farm, locally-sourced vinegars and sweeteners. Everything is small batch and chances are you’re drinking something that was whipped up the night before. They don’t try to be too clever or complicated and we got the feeling they put things together for the pleasure of trying out different flavours combinations. Bibitory creativity? check. Sigh.

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centre: barrio’s peach shrub with lime and native roselle hibiscus soda

Being an actual coffee shop (rather than a new york-themed speakeasy), the barrio boys’ drinks are work and family friendly in that they dont come with a hefty slug of liquor. Given we are grown up children – and, quite possibly alcoholics – we usually smarten the whole thing up with a bit of whiskey, or bourbon, or gin. Honestly though, these things taste every bit as good with or without your favourite fortifier. If you do want to kick on, work on the same principle of matching your flavours. We’ve gone with blackberry and rosemary shrub with bourbon and wild cherry plum shrub with gin.

blackberry  + rosemary
2 punnets blackberries
¾ cup raw sugar, or to taste
1 cup apple cider vinegar
1 large sprig rosemary
sparkling water

cherry plum
1½ cups cherry plums, or other small plum
¾ cup raw sugar
1 cup apple cider vinegar
sparkling water

bourbon, whiskey, gin

shrubshorizontalMix the blackberries, rosemary and sugar in a bowl and cover. Leave overnight in the fridge – or a few hours if you are impatient – until the fruit has released all its juices and turned into a syrupy sludge. Mashing the fruit a bit with a fork every now and then can help speed this up.

Strain the syrup, discarding the seeds and pulp and any undissolved sugar. Add half the vinegar to the syrup, mix well. Taste the shrub at this point to test for sweetness and acidity. If you want it sweeter, dissolve some sugar in some boiling water and add to the mix. If it needs more acidity – and it probably should at this point – add more vinegar.

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Once you are happy with the mix, transfer to sterilised, non reactive sealable bottles or jars and store in the fridge for as long as you want. Because it’s preserved, it’ll keep for ages once bottled. The longer you keep it in the fridge, the more intense it gets.

For the plum shrub, halve the fruit and discard the stones. Mix with the sugar and follow the method above.

To serve, mix 30ml of the shrub with 30ml (or more) of bourbon or gin and top up with ice and sparkling water.

3 thoughts on “blackberry + rosemary and cherry plum shrubs

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