Saturday, April 10, 2010

Rhubarb Liqueur


If there were some sort of Church of Spring, I think rhubarb would be among its primary sacraments. I know that many people would lobby that that role go to asparagus, with its jaunty spears poking through the barely-thawed ground. I can see their point--I totally adore asparagus (more on that later), it has a wholly unique flavor, and the ridiculous brevity of its season makes it all the more dear. But when it comes down to it, there are always green vegetables to be had, even in the depths of winter. But fresh fruity flavors--those I have truly missed. My fruit intake has been restricted to too-much-already citrus, mealy wintered-over apples, and canned plums and pears. Rhubarb, with its punchy, berry-like brightness, is a clear sign that things are coming around again. Hello, Spring!

I'm fond of rhubarb in many forms, from stewy compotes to cocktail syrups. But as soon as the first harvest appears, I start thinking about rhubarb liqueur. Mostly because it has to sit and age for so darned long to achieve its most delicious destiny. Rhubarb is cleaned, chopped, and steeped in grain alcohol for a few weeks until the color and flavor leaches out. Then it's strained to a ruby clarity, and sweetened and diluted to a drinkable concentration. Then the aging begins--a month minimum, but the longer the better. The liqueur gradually loses its harsh edge, but still maintains that characteristic rhubarb bite. I like it mixed with seltzer for an instant cocktail, or enjoyed straight up, still cold from the freezer. It's become our favorite celebratory toast, reminding us of the sweetness of Spring at any time of the year.


Rhubarb Liqueur

this is more a loose template than a recipe, easily adapted to however much rhubarb you have

rhubarb
grain alcohol
sugar
water

Chop the rhubarb finely to expose maximum surface area -- I like to pulse it a few times in a food processor. Place in a glass jar, cover with grain alcohol by an inch or so, screw the lid on, and allow to steep 2-4 weeks. Over this time, the flavor and color will leach out of the rhubarb, leaving the alcohol rosy and the rhubarb a sickly yellow-white (the exact amount of time this takes will vary).

When the rhubarb has finished steeping, strain it from the alcohol, and filter the solution through several layers of cheesecloth or, preferably, coffee filters. Measure the final amount of alcohol -- this is your base number. In a saucepan, heat 1.5 times that amount of water, and 1/2 - 3/4 that amount of sugar, depending on how sweet you like things (I tend towards the middle). To give an example: 4 cups rhubarb alcohol would need 6 cups of water and 2-3 cups sugar. Let the sugar syrup cool, then add it to your filtered alcohol. Taste (the flavors will be a bit harsh), and add more sugar if desired. Let age for at least a month before enjoying. Rhubarb liqueur keeps at any temperature, but is especially delicious straight from the freezer.

42 comments:

  1. Love the rhubarb drink. Reminds me of ratafia ( I made a quince version)
    that is really stellar4 month later. I love rhubarb too... this is a great idea and I love the way you spin the mood ... ain't Spring great!

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  2. This is a great way to use a massive amount of homegrown rhubarb - I love it!

    Mine is just starting to pop up, so to celebrate I just posted a recipe for rhubarb ice pops.

    I think one of the best things about rhubarb (besides the fantastic tart flavor) is the lovely shade of girly pink it turns everything it touches.

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  3. lostpast: Quince ratafia sounds lovely. I once asked a Basque friend what they traditionally do with quince, aside from the classic membrillo paste. The only idea he offered was leaving it in the car so that things smell nice. Booze sounds better.

    Tallgrass: Those pops look delicious! I've been making a ton of rhubarb syrup here as well (I'll probably post on that soon), but mine tends to end up in the cocktail shaker rather than the freezer.

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  4. And my husband was asking me why on earth I would want to plant Rhubarb!!! This is the perfect reason!

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  5. Quick question - do you need to refrigerate this while steeping and/or during second "rest"?

    Thanks

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  6. No refrigeration necessary -- grain alcohol is around 190 proof, and even after dilution you're still not too far from vodka-like alcohol concentration. Nothing's growing there.

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  7. I have a mason jar of rhubarb steeping in (very) cheap vodka on my counter right now, which is very nice with seltzer after a week or so. I'm going to try this version too and see how the extra aging affects it -- thanks!

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  8. Do you think this would work with honey as the sweetener? It sounds like it would from your last comment about the alcohol concentration. I want to plant rhubarb now!

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  9. Stephanie: Aging can do wonders. And I think the grain alcohol draws out more flavor than vodka -- my friend once said that vodka-based liqueurs always taste, essentially, like flavored vodka. Not that that's a bad thing. But grain alcohol liqueurs capture a bit more of the fruit.

    Teri: I think honey would work -- as long as you get a flavor you like, and a vodka-level proof in the end, it should come together.

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  10. By grain alcohol, do you mean a whiskey or a bourbon? Please give us your preference, if you have one!

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  11. anduin: Although whisky and bourbon are both made from deliciously fermented grain, I was referring to neutral grain alcohol or spirits, such as Everclear. These types of booze are 190 proof or so, twice as alcoholic as vodka. They're not for drinking straight (unless you have a nasty habit), but they're great solvents for drawing flavor out of infused fruits. The sugar syrup in this recipe then dilutes your liquor up to a drinkable concentration, but it'll still be alcoholic enough to stay liquid in the freezer. Here in Oregon they keep grain alcohol behind the counter at the liquor store, but it's possible other states trust you a bit more.

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  12. how do you store the final product? is there is a bottling process or can it be stored in mason jars in the fridge for a loooong time?

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  13. Deena this looks yummy. I'm betting you could do it all summer with whatever fruits you see at the market.

    This reminds me of the "Rhujito" I saw a few years back: http://www.lelonopo.com/2008/06/hunting-summer-cocktail-yes-im-on.html

    There's just something about rhubarb!

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  14. Regina: There's no bottling process -- since the finished liqueur has an alcoholic concentration on par with vodka, you can similarly store it at room temperature with no danger of spoilage. That said, I tend to keep mine in the freezer, for chilled sipping at any time.

    Tricia: That rhujito looks lovely (and, bonus, fun to say!). I tend to make a rhubarb simple syrup for rhubarbaritas, rhubarb collinses, etc.

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  15. Absolutely beautiful! We used to pull rhubarb off the plant and chew on the ends as kids, lol, I grew up eating rhubarb pie, rhubarb strawberry pie, rhubarb cake, and even rhubarb jelly, and I find it so odd that people just don't like rhubarb... we always had so much growing around the house, I never realized it wasn't a common thing until I got older lol. I am excited to see all the wonderful ideas here, and am adding these very "pretty" and delicious recipes to my large book of collected edibles, ty so much for the wonderful yummies :) Bri.

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  16. OK wait a minute. Are you saying that I can make any number of flavored liquers by simply putting stuff in Everclear and letting it sit? Because if you could, I would do it with coffee. Is it the same idea? For other flavors?

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  17. Bri: It's definitely a pretty liqueur -- almost too pretty to drink. Almost.

    Matthew: You could definitely try this process with coffee -- you'd get a version of Kahlua! As with other liqueurs, there's debate on whether vodka or a stronger, Everclear-type liqueur yields a better result. I haven't tried it myself, but perhaps I'll put it on my list...

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  18. OK. Note the date. I just returned from a week at my Parents' farm, and had another bag of fresh rhubarb sent along with me. I went straight to the liquor store, got some grain alcohol, and now finally, finally have this beginnings of this beautiful liqueur!

    It is going to seem like forever until I can taste it!!!

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  19. It's never too late for rhubarb liqueur. Plus now you can distract yourself with all the other fruits that are ripening -- by the time the harvest dries up, your booze will be ready for sipping!

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  20. Oof. Next rhubarb season I'm gonna be all over this. Want!!

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  21. Since it came up... here's a recipe for Kahlua.

    Simmer 2C water, 1.5C sugar, 1.5C brown sugar until sugars are dissolved.
    Add 1/3C good instant coffee until dissolved.
    Cool.
    Add 1T vanilla, 1.5t almond extract, 1L vodka.
    Age a few weeks.

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  22. I live up in Canada and our provincial liquor store doesn't carry Everclear. What else could I look for as an alternative?

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  23. If you can't find Everclear, ask the shop if they carry any neutral spirits around that range of proof (170+). If not, just use the highest-proof vodka you can find, and give the infusion an extra week or so. Adjust the amount of liquid accordingly so you don't overdilute, and fuss around with the sweetness as needed. Enjoy!

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  24. Hey Deena...nice to see this recipe appear in FoodDay today. I'm excited to try it since our rhubarb is finally looking "pickable". Can you give me a basic start quantity for the rhubarb? I don't want to under-do it and have 'flimsy flavor'. Thanks!
    ~Kathleen

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  25. I'd start with at least a pound of rhubarb. As long as you only cover the batch by just a couple inches of grain alcohol, you'll get great flavor. And remember, it tastes best as it ages, so making a lot is never a bad idea.

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  26. Thanks much. I did this with Royal Ann cherries a couple of years ago. Oh my! Then tried Bings; RAs yielded a more flavorful product.
    ~Kathleen

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  27. This looks fantastic! I have lots and lots of rhubarb growing so will be giving this a try this year!

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  28. I love rhubarb! This is a great idea, I found this post from food in jars. Have you done this with frozen rhubarb? My northern family freezes it and sends it south with us.

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  29. I made this in May. It turned out fantastic. So easy, and yet delicious. Better than Grande Marnier!!!

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  30. Mmm. I made this last spring and had all but forgotten about it. But I pulled it out tonight and mixed 2 oz. rhubarb liqueur with 1 oz. rosemary-infused simple syrup and 2-3 oz. club soda over ice. So good! Will be drinking this nonstop until the rhubarb comes up again!

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    Replies
    1. Rhubarb + rosemary sounds lovely -- I'll earmark that for my next batch...

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  31. what do you do with the left over rhubarb can it be used in a compote??

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    1. I usually just toss it — all of the color and a lot of the flavor has been pulled out from its soak, so it's really just a boozy husk by the end.

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  32. i have made amerretto out of moonshine, same as everclear..and it's wonderful. my husband used to hunt in green county, ms. and he brought it to me by the gallon trucked in from tenn. it was sealed in milk jugs where you have to pull the piece of plastic off to open the gallon. i assume the distillery was in an old milk processing plant or something..i was amazed.

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  33. Help! I made this about two months ago. I actually made about 6 liters by accident, but it tastes awesome, so I'm certainly not sad about it. My problem is that I strained it through cheese cloth a few times but still there's some sort of sediment on the bottom of the jars. It is in all three jars, despite so much straining. Is that normal/ok???? Thanks for your help, planning on taking this to the beach for a labor day weekend get-away...don't want to get anyone sick or anything.

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    Replies
    1. There can be some fine sediment remaining, especially if you use cheesecloth rather than a coffee filter (and more may settle out over time). If you want, you can delicately pour off from the top, and try to leave the sediment behind. But it's purely cosmetic — given that alcohol proof, no bad bugs are going to be left to make you sick. Enjoy without worry!

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    2. THANKS!!! I can't wait to share this with my friends, they are going to love it.

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  34. This sounds fabulous. we have around 15 rhubarbs plants growing (all came from one plant given to me about 7 years ago). I was struggling to think what we would do when all 15 plants are ready to harvest....

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  35. I made the Rhubarb Liqueur with vodka; however, there are white spots on the top. It almost looks like mold. Any idea what this is? Thanks!

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    1. Hm that's a new one on me. Usually the high proof of this mixture will scare off any living thing, mold included. Did you dilute it according to the recipe? If you started with vodka (which is half the proof of the grain alcohol called for here), and then diluted it further, then perhaps it'd be low enough proof for bugs to grow. I'd either follow as written, or just add the sugar sans additional water if you're using vodka instead.

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  36. Inspired by a link from Marissa at Food in Jars to try your recipe. I def scored the last of the season's rhubarb today from a local farm I like in Plymouth Meeting PA-- Maple Acres. Should be ready to enjoy by late July. Thanks!

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  37. Wow! What a great recipe. I used the higher octane Everclear (190 proof), and only double the water. The results are fabulous, and great for mixed drinks. Thank you so much! I've shared you website with several friends.

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