Review: Small Batch Shrub
Covers Products: Coconut, Cara Cara Orange Vanilla , Cascadia Raspberry, Lemongrass Mint
Small Barrel Shrub utilizes a base of carbonated water, fruit flavored balsamic drinking vinegar, and coconut water to create a unique take on craft soda.
The products have no added sugar and use the sugars in the balsamic vinegar and added coconut water to sweeten the drinks. Still, these are not low calorie or sugar-free products: each 12 oz. bottle has between 115 and 140 calories and 24 to 32 grams of sugar.
From a taste perspective, we were quite surprised and pleased with what’s inside these bottles. The pairing of balsamic drinking vinegar and coconut water is very flavorful, but also quite balanced. It’s lighter than a straight drinking vinegar but it’s also bolder than a kombucha or water kefir.
There are presently four flavors in the lineup: Lemongrass Mint, Coconut, Cascadia Raspberry, and Cara Cara Orange Vanilla. We found Coconut to be our favorite since it effectively only has two flavors (coconut and vinegar) and is the cleanest of the bunch. From there, Cascadia Raspberry, which has notes of three different flavors, is where we suggest going next. It has some really bright fruit flavor to it and we think raspberry is a nice gateway flavor for those who are new to the drinking vinegars. The final two flavors, Lemongrass Mint and Cara Cara Orange Vanilla, have a bit too much going on, in our opinion. We’d love to see these products simplified and dialed in on a single flavor -- at least until the brand has some traction.
On the packaging and branding side of things, the use of a long neck 12 oz. amber glass bottle will certainly make this product skew towards the craft CSD section. The label design has an almost craft beer like vibe to it and definitely feels like an artisanal product. To that end, the aesthetic is both eye-catching and current.
Still, we have some constructive criticism for the company behind this. First and foremost, the execution of the brand’s logo, which has “Small Barrel” in much smaller text than the word “Shrub,” makes it visually hard to figure out what the brand name is. Plus, we’re honestly not sure if “Small Barrel Shrub” is really an ownable brand or just something that consumers might see as a description of the product.
Second, the “0 Added Sugar” callout is something that looks like a callout for zero sugar. Given that this product is far from that, we think that this is inappropriate and will just create confusion with consumers.
Finally, we can’t help but wonder if a can or another package format would increase this product’s appeal. There’s a good amount of baggage (in terms of quality and a vibe of indulgence) that come with this package format for carbonated beverages.
In the end, Small Barrel Shrub is a unique and enjoyable entry into the craft soda space. We think it does a great job of introducing trendy and authentic flavors into a category that’s often devoid of ideas that push the envelope -- and this is definitely that. It’s a solid concept and one that we think, with a bit of refinement, can carve out a nice niche in the category.