When Heidi Kuhn walked into Le Marché, I threw my usual 'interview questions' out the door and spent some time catching up with her instead. I met Heidi back when we both worked at West Elm Market, with I, as the lead barista at the cafe portion of the store, and her, as a WEM sales associate. Mixers and Elixirs was still in its very early stages; she held a few in-store pop-ups during the weekend community events, and she would use us, her fellow co-workers, as test subjects for some of her up-and-coming flavours. As we both moved on from West Elm Market's environment, she managed to secure regular spots in the Vancouver Farmers' Market list of vendors, before finding a commissary where she can produce and bottle her shrubs. The rest, as they say, is history, though this is still just the beginning for everything in Heidi's world.
Heidi has had the pleasure of collaborating with a few of the city's up-and-coming bartenders, most notably Olivia Povarchook during BC Distilled. Olivia currently works behind the bar at Juniper, but she first cut her teeth behind the stick at UVA Wine and Cocktail Bar, under the tutelage of 2015 World Class Canada winner and co-proprietor of Bittered Sling, Lauren Mote. Olivia has since flourished within the vibrant cocktail scene in Vancouver, and has been recently named the CPBA - BC Chapter's Bartender of the Month (Canadian Professional Bartender's Association). When I asked Heidi how working with Olivia was like, she said, "She's a real pro - she did everything. She did the research, did the tasting, and just came up with a recipe using my quince shrub... and it was delicious. She knew how to talk to the crowd about my product and the spirits she used, and she was charming and extremely professional, even when the rowdier ones in the bunch would try to sass her."
Here's the thing about shrubs - not very many people are familiar with them or their uses. Shrubs - the non-plant definition of the word - are acidulated beverages made with fruit, sugar, and other ingredients. Shrubs are an innovative way to preserve summer's bounty, and are typically mixed with various spirits or soda water to create refreshing sippers and cocktails. One would use shrubs much like one would use cordials - like sugar syrups. Shrubs fell out of popularity with the advent of home refrigeration, but many cities like Vancouver are experiencing a culinary resurgence of small-batch preserving and fermenting, heightening these old-school, artisan techniques by presenting them in new and exciting ways in the form of craft cocktails and sodas, to scratch only the surface.
So, what's next in Heidi's world, then? She is currently working with Biota Fermentation on a series of Mother's Day Blooming Boxes with LongTable Distillery. The boxes are out for pick-up and pre-order now. And for those discovering her shrubs for the first time (as well as current fans of her product), she is slated to release a new shrub flavour - cucumber-black pepper - out in May. I see another gin cocktail using that cucumber-black pepper shrub with my name on it in the future!
For a list of her stockists and market days, visit Mixers and Elixirs for more information! In the meantime, enjoy these two very simple recipes from Heidi using her shrubs. You can pick up a bottle or two of Heidi's Mixers and Elixirs at our cafe! It's shaping up to be a beautiful weekend, and these simple summer sippers are sure to please.