Rhubarb doesn’t get the recognition it deserves.
For me, rhubarb’s long, spindly stalks are a welcome sign that spring has arrived. The lead-up to rhubarb’s appearance is anxious, as I pray for warmer weather and the bounty that comes with it. Spring is the year’s most exciting harvest for many of us bartenders: Herbs, berries, stone fruits and, yes, rhubarb all find their way into our cocktail shakers.
The herbaceous perennial is botanically a vegetable but legally classified as a fruit in the United States because of the plant’s association with pies and other baked goods.
Me, I like my rhubarb best in drinks. Raw, rhubarb is not the most flavor-packed ingredient. But once you cook them, the stalks’ tart essence steps forward. As the ground thaws, I simmer rhubarb, sugar and water together, reducing the stalks to a sweet-tart syrup that I add to the gin-based Rhubarb & Strawberry Collins, along with gently bitter Aperol.
In New York, Brett Hughes turns rhubarb into a delicious shrub by gently heating it with sugar, raspberry vinegar, coriander and pink peppercorns. Use it in a Rosé Cobbler, boosted even more with rhubarb bitters. Other smart ways with rhubarb: mixing it with dry and delicate manzanilla sherry in a Rhubarb Fix, with apple vodka and lemon juice in a Rosemary & Rhubarb, generously dashing rhubarb bitters into a cocktail alongside other spring flavors in a Spring Fever or sipping the delightful rhubarb-based amaro Rabarbaro Zucca.
Or add the syrup or shrub to club soda or seltzer—so refreshing on a balmy night. Rhubarb: It’s not just for pies.
1. Rhubarb & Strawberry Collins
Strawberry and rhubarb are two of spring's favorite flavors, and they match up in this cocktail from Young that calls for gin or vodka, Aperol, lemon and strawberry juices and rhubarb syrup, all topped with a splash of club soda. A lemon wheel and pickled rhubarb stalk complete the effect.
2. Rhubarb Fix
Gin and gently salty manzanilla sherry form the backbone of this simple yet satisfying cocktail, created by Hughes, that gets brightness from fresh lemon juice and rhubarb syrup. A mint sprig adds complementary herbaceous notes.
3. Rosé Cobbler
This cocktail from Young gets double the rhubarb treatment with a syrup made from the fruit and a hefty dose of rhubarb bitters. They join rosato vermouth, Aperol, strawberry puree and lemon juice to make a low-ABV refresher that gets liberally garnished with fresh fruit, powdered sugar and a mint sprig.
4. Spring Fever
The name of this cocktail by NYC bartender Jamie Steinberg says it all. The low-ABV drink starts with delicate elderflower liqueur, quartered strawberries, fresh lemon juice and rhubarb bitters, which is then topped with rosé sparkling wine and accented with a lemon wheel, making the perfect combination of spring's best elements.
5. Rosemary & Rhubarb
Rhubarb syrup again makes an appearance in this cocktail from bar pro Charlotte Voisey, joining apple vodka, lemon juice and a couple rosemary sprigs adding an herbaceous note. A festive apple fan garnish adds a final flourish.