photos and story by Joshua Hinte
Shrubs have quickly found their way back into the spotlight over the past few years, cropping up on a slew of cocktail menus. These refreshing vinegar syrups add dimension to more than just cocktails, they give a fresh, vibrant addition to simple sodas, tea, and coffee. Just ask Monique Carr of Spellbound Syrups.
Carr founded Spellbound Syrups in 2016 and her shrubs have quickly become a hit, popping up in a slew of different bars and coffee shops in Downtown Albuquerque. She now provides seasonal shrubs to Deep Space Coffee, Zendo Coffee, and Sister Bar.
Carr’s passion for shrubs and her creativity when making them is likely why they’ve become popular in Albuquerque. “I’m obsessed with shrubs because they hit all of your senses… They’re just really alluring and exciting.” Once you try one of Monique’s shrubs, you’ll see why she feels this way.
Carr started experimenting with shrubs in the summer of 2015. Her then boyfriend had a voracious appetite for reading and would often bring her different books from his excursions to the library. One day he brought her Shrubs by Michael Dietsch. After reading this book, Monique began creating her own shrubs.
It wasn’t until Spring of 2016 that Carr began to find a niche for her shrubs in Albuquerque. She began at Prismatic Coffee where, working closely with founders Loren Bunjes and Grey Smith, she crafted a Pear and Ginger shrub for their opening night. Receiving a warm welcome from people who sampled her syrups, she had found her calling.
Carr then landed on the name Spellbound Syrups. She chose Spellbound because of the effect that fresh, vibrant shrubs can have. Carr says, “That’s why I named my company Spellbound. I aim to really invigorate and stimulate all of those visual senses, your olfactory, the different parts of your palate; I try to make the shrubs very balanced.”
Over the past year, she has worked to get her shrubs and syrups into local coffee shops and bars. Her first success came with Deep Space Coffee who features one of her shrubs at all times. Recently, she began providing syrups to Sister Bar, where in less than a week, 2 gallons of her product quickly sold out. Recently, she partnered with Zendo to provide a grapefruit, mint, and vanilla bean shrub that is mixed with soda water and espresso.
Along with providing her concoctions to local businesses, she has also begun to experiment with different craft cocktails that are being used at Dig + Serve, which creates experiential, pop-up, dining events. This recent endeavor has challenged her to begin experimenting with and learning about different alcohol and see how they pair with shrubs.
Finding that her past experience as a barista at Prismatic Coffee and at La Cumbre Brewing helped open her palate to subtle nuanced flavors found in different coffee blends and brews. This early, and unexpected, training of her palate has helped her find and add different layers of flavor to her own shrubs, bringing a new dimension to her creations.
She finds that her heritage is one of her biggest inspirations and has taught her to love bright and exciting flavors. This has challenged her to experiment with tropical fruits, like guava and tamarind, and with different dried flowers, like hibiscus. New Mexico’s love for lavender and juniper are flavors that also help to inspire her creations and she often forages for these ingredients. Carr also loves working with different melons and one of her all time favorite shrubs is a honeydew lavender.
As Monique continues delving into shrubs and syrups, further entwining herself in this art, she plans on experimenting with savory flavors like rhubarb and peppercorn and other unexpected ingredients, continually playing with balance. When making her shrubs, Carr “make(s) sure there’s a savory component, a sweet component, a tart component, maybe something that’s earthy or spicy. I try to incorporate all of those things into one shrub.”
Stop by any of the aforementioned coffee shops or breweries to sample the subtle nuanced flavors of Carr’s Spellbound Syrups.