FRESH, SEASONAL INGREDIENTS can make unique mixed drinks, so if it’s spring in the Midwest, the tart and tangy rhubarb is an excellent candidate for a drink.
Growing up in a small, rural town in Iowa, rhubarb always seemed like a “farm thing.” When we visited the grandparents, rhubarb was plentiful on their farms, and various rhubarb treats — rhubarb crisp, rhubarb topping, rhubarb pie — were common.
For the uninitiated, rhubarb is a perennial plant that grows from an underground rhizome. If you pick up fresh ginger at the store or the farmer’s market, ginger is a rhizome. From this rhizome, the rhubarb plant shoots out long stalks that look almost like celery, except often with a reddish color, and the stalks are topped with large leaves. It’s the stalks with their tart taste that we use for cooking — or drinking.
RHUBARB IS SO TART that it is generally mixed with sugar to make it palatable, whether you are making a pie or a mixed drink. Many drink recipes call for the creation of a syrup, boiling down the rhubarb stalks to extract the juice and adding sugar to the mixture.
Finding the right proportion of rhubarb juice to sugar for the syrup is an art form. In the recipes below, the Sweet Rhubarb Syrup follows a pretty standard ratio used in simple syrup, plus the addition of the rhubarb juice. But adding enough of the syrup to a drink to impart the rhubarb flavor makes for a pretty sweet drink. If you don’t want something quite that sweet, try cutting the ratio of sugar just a bit.
I have a tremendous sweet tooth, so I enjoy the Sweet Rhubarb Syrup. But we have one friend who doesn’t like sweet drinks at all. When I mix her a Sazerac or a Mint Julep, I go light on the simple syrup. For her, I concocted the Tart Rhubarb Syrup. It will add a lot of rhubarb flavor without a lot of sweetness. You might try both syrups, adjusting the ratio in the drinks to suit your own taste.
Following are a couple of drink recipes that I created or tweaked from various sources. I think both worked well. For the Martini, you can definitely taste the rhubarb, but it’s still a sweet drink. For the Collins, the strawberry adds a very strong flavoring, so you may want to use the Tart Rhubarb Syrup or a bit of both syrups.
Rhubarb Gin Martini
- 2 oz. Gin
- 2 oz. Sweet Rhubarb Syrup
- 1 oz. Cranberry Juice
- Fresh squeezed lime juice to taste (Less than 1/2 oz.)
Add ingredients to martini shaker. Add ice cubes. Shake 1-2 minutes. Serve in a martini glass wheel with lime wheel on the rim.
Yield: 1 Martini
VARIATION: Use River Rose Gin from the Mississippi River Distilling Co., located in Le Claire, Iowa. The gin from this craft distillery has a strong floral bouquet that adds a different dimension to the drink.
Rhubarb Strawberry Collins
In a pint glass:
- Muddle 1 strawberry in the bottom of the glass
- 1.5 oz. Gin
- 2-3 oz. Rhubarb Syrup — Sweet or Tart, to your taste
- A squeeze of fresh lime juice
- Top with Club Soda
Yield: 1 drink
Sweet Rhubarb Syrup
- 2 quarts water
- 8 cups sugar
- 4 cups roughly chopped rhubarb
Add the water to a pot and heat to a slow boil. Add sugar. Turn down heat slightly. Add rhubarb and stir gently for 5 minutes, breaking down the rhubarb. Turn off the heat and let cool completely, stirring occasionally and breaking down the rhubarb further. Strain and store in the refrigerator for up to a month.
VARIATIONS: This recipe makes A LOT of syrup. I actually cut the recipe by 1/4th, and it yielded 1 gallon of syrup. Also, I added additional rhubarb to taste, feeling the syrup didn’t quite have enough rhubarb flavor and tartness.
Tart Rhubarb Syrup
- 2 cups water
- 2 cups rhubarb, thinly sliced
- 1 tablespoon sugar
Prepare the same as Sweet Rhubarb Syrup.
Yield: Just over 2 cups of syrup.