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