In our yard, the first edible plant plant to emerge in the spring is our neighbor’s rhubarb. It’s ready to go before the asparagus, before the baby lettuces, and, since our neighbor seems to condone it, we happily avail ourselves of the resource (Gwen, next time we see you we’re going to greet you with this drink). But what do you do when you have a glut of gorgeous rhubarb and no strawberries to speak of? Rhubarb cocktails!
Rhubarb has a biting sourness and a great tannic mouthfeel that makes it a perfect substitute for citrus in cocktails, and yet, it’s surprisingly rare ingredient on your average cocktail list. The following cocktail nicely captures the essence of rhubarb, with its distinctive flavor and slight bitterness. The rhubarb is used to make a light syrup that could really be incorporated into a variety of drinks. Here it’s mixed with gin and Aperol, which is an Italian aperitif that also lists rhubarb among it’s multiple ingredients. If you can’t find Aperol, you should still make this syrup and mix it with your spirits, but the Aperol provides a bitterness and a balance that makes this drink one of my new spring-time favorites.
As a side note, were you aware that rhubarb is legally classified in the US as a fruit? It’s true! Even though it’s technically a vegetable, a US Customs Court ruled in 1947 that since rhubarb was mainly used as a “fruit” it would be classified as such. This effectively allowed rhubarb to be imported with a lower tariff than if it were classified a vegetable.
The Rhubarberol Cocktail
Light rhubarb syrup
- a bunch of rhubarb stalks (depending on how much syrup you want to end up with), cut into chunks
- light simple syrup to cover (2 parts water to 1 part sugar, heated until dissolved)
Pack the rhubarb into a saucepan and barely cover with simple syrup, you want this to be as intensely flavored as possible. Simmer on low until the rhubarb is falling apart, about 15 to 20 minutes. Strain through cheesecloth into a jar and store in the fridge until ready to use. This syrup will keep for a few weeks in the fridge.
- 1 small stalk fresh rhubarb (about 25 grams)
- 2 oz gin (use a gin that’s not too strong on the juniper here. I like DH Krahn for this drink, and New Amsterdam would work well here as well… unlike most other gin drinks if you ask me).
- 1½ oz rhubarb syrup
- ½ Aperol
- 1 or 2 dashes Fee’s Orange Bitters (optional: other orange bitters such as Regan’s might be a bit too strong for this drink)
Muddle the fresh rhubarb stalk in a cocktail shaker. Add the gin, rhubarb syrup, Aperol, and a dash or two of orange bitters. Add ice and stir until chilled. Pour into a cocktail glass and garnish with a very thinly sliced twist of rhubarb stalk (I used a sharp knife, but a mandolin or a vegetable peeler might work as well).