Can’t Just Shrub It Off

Do you know where your food comes from?

I started my position at Charlotteville Brewing Co. just as we were opening our doors to the public. I uprooted myself from Toronto and moved to Norfolk County; I was certainly ready for a big change. Little did I know this place would become more of a home to me than I’ve ever known. You see, in the city, we rarely let the notion of where and how our food is produced, occur to us. This is just one of many disconnects experienced within city limits, but one very close to home.

Most of us shop at chain grocery stores and supermarkets. I always thought that endless choice and convenience the city provides, reigned supreme. Sure – it is a luxury having access to produce from all over the world, even out of season, right at your fingertips – but at what cost? The produce often comes from industrial farms that exploit the land and people involved. If that isn’t enough to make you question this practice we actively take part in, the taste is also compromised. And what about a sense of community between us and those who produce our food?

So how do we find an alternative? When you’re right in the midst of these practices and have been your entire life, it is difficult to see the true impact. It sometimes takes stepping outside the lines (in my case – the city) to take in the bigger picture and start to make -and live- that very change. In Norfolk County, there are quite a few independent markets, open spring through autumn that sell locally grown, seasonal produce. I started frequenting these and realized the food not only tastes better but is safer to feed yourself and your family. Not to mention supporting local and sustainable agriculture within our community.
At Charlotteville Brewing Co., we uphold the value of consciously choosing local and organic ingredients, whether they’re to be used for our beers on tap or for the other drinks and seasonal menu we offer. This practice is steeped in the philosophies of the Slow Food Movement. Slow Food encourages us to be, “a conscious consumer who goes beyond the passive role of consuming and takes an interest in those who produce our food.” Working alongside owners, Mel and Tim, and seeing their consistent approach with Slow Food and agroecology has opened my eyes to a truly conscious way of life, how we sustain ourselves and our offerings at Charlotteville.

How I started making my own shrubs

It all started to click when I decided to have a go at making my own shrub to join the others on our non-alcoholic drink menu. For those who don’t know what a shrub is (and I don’t mean the plant), let me explain. They are refreshing drinks made by combining fruit with vinegar and sugar, herbs and spices in various ways, then mixed with sparkling water and served on ice. Shrubs take about a week for the flavours to mingle and ferment – an investment; not something you can just grab off the shelf at any old supermarket.

Shrubs Recipe Book

Mel showed me Michael Dietsch’s book, “Shrubs: An Old Fashioned Drink for Modern Times,” when I expressed interest. I learned that “shrub” comes from the arab word “sharab” meaning “to drink.” I ended up choosing a recipe for a grapefruit shrub. So I copied down the recipe and like a habit I hadn’t yet shaken, went to the grocery store to pick up my ingredients. But the thing is, when I was in the produce aisle, I had a moment of clarity. I was holding a grapefruit in my hand and I was thinking to myself, this ingredient is not local to Norfolk. There was a sticker that told me it was a product of Mexico, but nothing more to reveal anything about the land and people involved in its growth and travels. I put it down and regrouped; I went back to the drawing board. I decided to check out the local markets and see which ingredients were in season and then looked at the recipes again.

Tomato Basil Ingredients


With Mel, I found a recipe for a tomato and basil shrub. I chose organic heirloom tomatoes from a local market and basil I had grown in my own backyard. Heirloom denotes a traditional variety of plants that is not associated with large-scale commercial agriculture. And voila, I got to make and serve a shrub whose ingredients were rooted in and expressive of Norfolk County. And that is when I felt aligned with Charlotteville’s values.

After I had the first one under my belt, I tried a couple more recipes with the same approach. I found some nice pears at the markets next and created a Pear and Ginger shrub. And as summer sauntered into autumn, I made an apple cinnamon shrub with apples picked up the road by one of our locals. Some of the other Shrubs we featured were Strawberry Balsamic, Rhubarb, Raspberry Thyme, Peach Ginger Cinnamon and Blueberry Lavender.

The change I was looking for came with the flow of the seasons. As we begin to plant our very own garden at the farm, the possibilities are growing. Our offerings, such as shrubs, will be just one right from our own backyard. The horizon sure is looking bright.