Some people are downright breezy when it comes to messing with recipes. Not me: I fret when I start tweaking ingredients, convinced that I’ll ruin the drink.
But not this one. You can’t hurt this recipe — it’s like cocktail teflon.
This drink started life as “The Rhubarb Cooler.” But I’ve since realized that I might was well rename this versatile cocktail “The Whatever Seasonal Produce You Can Get Your Hands On Cooler,” since it’s easily adaptable… and the window for rhubarb is very, very short.
Sure, I’ve made it with rhubarb. The last of it is probably at the greenmarket right now. When rhubarb is in season, I’ll sometimes cut the rosy-red stalks into half-inch pieces and puree them in the food processor. After the stalks are pulverized into smithereens, the fibrous mess can be spooned into a piece of cheesecloth, and the juices squeezed out into a measuring cup. Only an ounce of the vibrant ruby juice is needed for one cocktail.
But the rhubarb season is short — mid-to-late spring– and I foolishly agreed to make this drink for Martha Stewart’s “Cooking Today” show on Sirius at the tail end of March. I went to the greenmarket, the supermarket, and what did I find? NO RHUBARB. I was too early!
So I substituted strawberry lemonade, to approximate the rosy hue and tart punch of fresh rhubarb. And it was delicious!
So I’ve been experimenting with the juices in this drink: as long as there’s a tart element (lemonade or fresh lemon juice) to balance out the sweetness of the fruit juice and liqueur, it works great. Fresh strawberries, raspberries, fresh-pressed apple juice. It all works. No mint for the garnish? Try basil (probably would be amazing with a strawberry variation). Try coriander, or rosemary.
Another change that seems to make for a more forgiving cocktail: I’ve switched the format from straight up to on the rocks. The gradual dilution seems to smooth any remaining rough edges.
Teflon, I tell you.
Rhubarb Cooler Teflon Rhubarb Cooler
adapted from “Spice & Ice: 60 tongue-tingling cocktails,” by Kara Newman
1 ½ ounces Maker’s Mark bourbon
1 ounce Domaine de Canton ginger liqueur
1 ounce rhubarb puree * (or other amount of seasonal fruit juice, plus a squeeze of lemon)
1 mint sprig, for garnish
Vigorously shake together the bourbon, ginger liqueur and rhubarb puree with ice, until frothy. Strain into a rocks glass over fresh ice. Garnish with mint sprig, and offer a straw.
*For rhubarb puree:
1 ½ cups 1-inch pieces rhubarb
Puree the rhubarb in a blender and strain out the sediment through cheesecloth. Makes enough for several drinks.