Cocktail Recipe: The Amazing Teflon Rhubarb Cooler


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.

Why don’t you come out and see me sometime?

The next couple of weeks are shaping up to be crazy ones, in the best possible way!   Simply put, here’s my event calendar, and I hope to see you (or hear you!) at one of these events. Cheers!

 Thursday, September 30:  Cocktails For Everyone! radio, on I’ll be talking about Spice & Ice on this lively radio show about the people “behind the bottle,” with host Catherine Schiff.

Friday, October 1: Martha Stewart Radio (Sirius). I’ll be on the “Morning Living”  show talking about chile pepper-spiked cocktails.

Saturday, October 2:  Chile Pepper Fiesta at the Brooklyn Botanic Garden, Brooklyn, NY.  Book signing and drink sampling!

Tuesday, October 5:  Drink.Think, a new reading event about all things drink! New York, NY.

Drink Recipe, Deconstructed: Red Dawn

Ever tried to make cocktails in a non-kitchen setting? It’s one thing to demo cocktails at a bar, or in a kitchen classroom. But it’s a fair challenge to make a cocktail in say, a bookstore or a radio booth, where there’s no sink, no ice, and sometimes, no time to pour and measure out liquids.

So I’ve mastered the fine art of the portable cocktail. I like to think of it as advanced mise en place:  at home, I take care of squeezing citrus juice, infusing spirits, and then carefully measure out each liquid ingredient into 4-ounce disposable plastic containers. 

But guess what? It’s easy to confuse identical clear liquids in identical tiny containers. So I also label each one with the drink name (I’m often demonstrating multiple drinks), plus the amount and name of the liquid. Then I pack it all up (along with my cocktail shakers, one for each drink since there’s no time to rinse out), and take it with me. I sometimes even pack a painstakingly curled lemon peel or jalapeno round for garnish. It’s all very OCD.

At the studio, I then quickly group the containers together for each drink. And when it’s time to mix & go, I use the labels to narrate what I’m making as I pour everything into the shaker. strain, and serve the lovely radio host of the day.

Here’s a photo of one of the drinks I made this way for Everyday Food, a Martha Stewart show on Sirius. It’s like a deconstructed poem of a drink — you don’t even need the recipe, because if you read the labels across, you have all the ingredients and proportions. Note the curled lemon peel in the tiny baggie — because looks count, even on the radio. Wouldn’t it be neat to have a cookbook done this way?

The Red Dawn, deconstructed.

But just in case you’re not a visual type, here’s the Red Dawn recipe in traditional format.

Red Dawn (from Spice & Ice: 60 tongue-tingling cocktails)

2 ounces citron vodka

4 ounces tomato juice

1/2 teaspoon harissa (a Tunisian hot sauce made with red chiles, garlic, paprika…mmm…)

curled lemon peel or lemon wedge, for garnish

Combine the vodka, tomato juice, and harissa in a glass filled with ice. Garnish with lemon curl or lemon wedge.