Your newest foodie thing: shrubs

(First published in the September 27, 2018 issue of City Pages)

A new company is selling a vintage vinegar drink that’s making a comeback


Mindy McCord and Layne Cozzolino, cofounders of Siren Shrub Co. in Stevens Point.

There’s a new company in Stevens Point, and if the cofounders have their way, we’ll all be partying like it’s 1799.

Siren Shrub Company kicked off about a month ago by cofounders Layne Cozzolino, executive director of non-profit Farmshed, and Mindy McCord, administrative assistant to the County Executive in Portage County.

The company makes and sells shrubs, and in case you are picturing plants, you’re in for a pleasant surprise. Shrub is a type of sweet sipping vinegar the consistency of syrup and can be added to sparkling water to create sodas or used in gourmet cocktails.

Shrubs were popular in 17thand 18th century England and colonial America. The syrupy drink began as the by-product of preserving fruit but eventually became a thing onto its own. With the advent of refrigeration, many old-school preservation techniques fell off the map, and shrubs were among those.

But with the new popularity of fermented foods of old such as sauerkraut and kimchi, shrubs are making a comeback. Cozzolino says the last time they looked only 15 other companies in the U.S. make shrubs and only one other in Wisconsin, based out of Madison. Shrubs are becoming popular in the world of mixology — those fancy drinks that can take 5 minutes to make.

Cozzolino says Siren Shrub worked with Great Northern Distillery in Plover to create drinks out of Siren Shrub’s products. “If you take an herbalist gin and mix it with the basil shrub, it makes a great tonic,” McCord says. A-soshel restaurant in Plover is also using it in their cocktails. Cozzolino and McCord hope to expand more into the restaurant scene.

The drinks add a touch of cocktail even to non-alcoholic drinks, Cozzolino says. “At a tasting event last night, one person said ‘I feel like you made me something fancy, even if it was just mixed with carbonated water,’” Cozzolino says. Shrubs can be used for cooking and making marinades.

Cozzolino and McCord have been canning and cooking together for years, and last year started building the idea to form Siren Shrubs. They discovered shrubs in a cooking magazine in 2015, and became obsessed with them since.

Their shrubs now are available in many Stevens Point area locations such as Bottlestop, Ruby Coffee Roaster, Stevens Point Coop, Market on Strongs and Mission Coffee House. The duo plans to expand into the Wausau market next. Check out Siren Shrub Company on Facebook and Instagram.