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Column: Rha Rhubarb!

A ubiquitous plant in our parts, rhubarb can be used for more than just pies and crumbles.
Rhubarb isn't just for desserts--try it in a cocktail too. Photo: Alison Phillips

Rhubarb – it’s more than just for pies!

Did you know, rhubarb is technically a vegetable? A sort of bloodshot celery. Raw, it’s inedible, but cook it up with some sugar and bake it in a pie or crumble, and this prolifically growing plant becomes the essence of summertime on your tongue!

Add it’s favourite pairing, strawberries, and it becomes Strawberry Rhubarb Pie, or Crumble, Tiramisu, and jam. It’s a marriage made in heaven. But wait! The humble rhubarb is more versatile than you might think.

I’ve been growing rhubarb in my garden for years, and making the standard fare mentioned here. If you don’t grow rhubarb yourself, it’s plentiful at local farmers markets in the early part of the summer. So, last week, after discovering a large bag of chopped rhubarb in my freezer from last summer, and needing to make room for this year’s bounty, I decided it was time to get more creative.

Being as I’m in the beverage industry, I wanted something that would be tasty in a cocktail. So, I brewed up a pot of Rhubarb Syrup. It was so easy. I mixed 4 cups of chopped rhubarb, 1 ½ cups each of sugar and water in a saucepan and brought it to a boil. I let it simmer for 15-20 minutes. Once cooled, and the fruit was really soft, I strained it through a fine sieve funneling the gorgeous pink liquid into a pretty bottle. Voila! Rhubarb syrup. By the way, if you want to make something for your pancakes, let it boil and thicken longer to increase its viscosity to be less liquid and more syrupy.

My new challenge was designing a cocktail for me and my friends to enjoy at our next BBQ. First, I tried equal parts syrup and gin* shaken together with ice in a cocktail shaker. I poured it into an elegant glass, topped it with some Perrier water, added a dash of lime and a spring of mint. Very pretty and really tasty. Next, I used my same basic recipe, but this time added half a measure of Strawberry Gin liqueur.

Wow! Now we’re talking! The perfect Strawberry Rhubarb Gin Cocktail! It was even more delicious.

I have now experimented with vodka (works just as good if you’re not a Gin person), and Tequila, plus added a few drops of Rhubarb Bitters to each of these drinks. The addition of this intense flavouring really kicks up the rhubarbyness! With Tequila, it becomes a Rhubarb Paloma (usually made with grapefruit juice) and works amazingly well together.

So if you’re looking for something fun and a little different to drink on the deck this summer, I highly recommend any of these delicious cocktails. The rhubarb syrup will keep in the fridge for weeks. Stock up at the market, or ask a friend with a rhubarb plant for a cutting to grow for next year. If nothing else, using our time this summer to make something tasty from scratch is fun and rewarding.

Cheers and enjoy your summer!

*Rangpur Gin from Tanquray uses the rare Rangpur lime, giving an exotic profile to this gin. Bold aromas of lime, juniper, lemon peel and ginger greet you on the nose; the palate is dry and bold with flavours of fresh limes, lemongrass, mandarin and bay leaf followed by subtle heat on the finish. 

Strawberry gin liqueur is available at specialty liquor stores.

Alison Phillips is co-owner of Aligra Wine & Spirits in West Edmonton Mall.