Waiting in line at the farmers market, I can’t help but overhear people talking about all kinds of things. More than once I’ve heard someone say “the rhubarb is beautiful but what should I do with it?” They weren’t talking to me but if they were, my answer would be to use it for cocktails. Sure, I love a slice of rhubarb pie, but only if someone else bakes it. About this time every year, I get on my soapbox and talk about how perfect rhubarb is as a summer cocktail ingredient and this year I’m still at it. A rhubarb cocktail, abundant sunshine and a comfy Adirondack chair is my idea of Northwest summer perfection.
A few weeks ago I pulled out some rhubarb stalks to make room for my new Japanese cucumber plant. I tossed them in the compost because we have way more rhubarb than we can ever eat or drink and I’ll admit to being lazy in the kitchen. Charlie rescued them and suggested that we try some rhubarb-infused vodka. It was a good call because now I’m so excited about it that I’m dreaming up all sorts of boozy infusions for later in the summer when berries and cherries come into season.
It’s as easy as chopping up the rhubarb, putting it in a jar, covering it with vodka and storing it in a cool, dark place (I used our basement) for several (3 or 4) days. Once it turns a gorgeous orangey reddish color, it’s ready to drink. In general, I’m not a fan of flavored vodka, at least not the kind you buy at the liquor store. Homemade rhubarb-infused vodka tastes anything but artificial. It’s the real thing, simple to do and makes one helluva vodka tonic.
Rhubarb-Infused Vodka Tonic (per drink)
2 oz. rhubarb-infused vodka
1/2 oz. simple syrup (1 cup water to 3/4 cup sugar — I like it less sweet than the usual 1 to 1)
1/4 to 1/2 oz. fresh lemon juice
Fill cocktail shaker with ice. For each drink add 2 oz. rhubarb-infused vodka, 1/2 oz. simple syrup and lemon juice. Shake vigorously.
Strain into ice-filled glass and top off with tonic. Stir gently.
I garnished with a sprig of mint but you could also use a lemon wedge.
My birthday cocktail this year was the Rhubarb Sparkler, slightly more complicated but a good one to make by the pitcher-full for a larger group. We based our recipe on one from the Gramercy Tavern in NYC. It starts with a spiced rhubarb simple syrup that made me want to add peppercorns to every simple syrup I make.
Spiced Rhubarb Simple Syrup
8-10 medium stalks of rhubarb
2 T whole black peppercorns
1 knob of ginger, peeled and chopped
1/2 vanilla bean, split
Zest of one lime, cut into strips
1 1/2 cups water
3/4 cup sugar
Wash rhubarb, trim off the ends, and chop into 1/2″ pieces.
In a medium saucepan, combine the rhubarb, peppercorns, ginger, vanilla bean, lime zest, water and sugar. Bring to a boil, then simmer for 3 minutes. Do not stir. Remove from the heat and let it sit, undisturbed, for 10 minutes.
Drape cheesecloth over a strainer and set over a bowl. Pour the rhubarb into the strainer and let the liquid drain for at least 15 minutes.
Rhubarb Sparkler Cocktail (per drink)
1 oz. light rum
1 oz. dark rum
Juice of 1/2 lime or lemon (a combination also works)
1 oz. spiced rhubarb simple syrup
Directions for pitcherful:
Multiply each of the first four ingredients by the number of drinks you want to make. Pour all ingredients into an ice-filled pitcher.
Top off with Prosecco and stir gently.
Garnish with lime or lemon.