DIY vs. Buy: How to Make Rhubarb Bitters

Marcia Simmons

Rhubarb is one of my favorite cocktail ingredients. When rhubarb season arrived, I ran to buy as much as I could from the market that's usually first to get all the seasonal produce. When I couldn't find it, I went to the manager in a panic. "We used to stock that," he said. "But nobody likes it, so we stopped." I then dramatically flung myself onto the nearest support beam and screamed, "Noooooo!" as if I just found out Darth Vader was my father. (He is not.) Luckily, the next store had a whole display of rhubarb and promised me that they would keep stocking it throughout the season.

There isn't a cocktail ingredient that doesn't benefit from a little rhubarb. Steep some rhubarb in almost any clear spirit, and you'll be rewarded with a bright and fresh tasting infused spirit. Rhubarb syrup will rock your beverage world with its balance of sweet and sour, but I also like to get the tart, grassy flavor into my cocktails by juicing or muddling it. Until recently, the only mixological frontier I hadn't yet rhubarb-ized was bitters, which is just insane since rhubarb bitters pair well with every spirit and complement sweet, sour, and bitter flavors alike.

What's Available to Buy

At this point, it seems that there are only two choices for rhubarb bitters on the market: Fee Brothers or Brooklyn Hemispherical Bitters. Fee Brothers' rhubarb bitters are fairly easy to come by. They have a pronounced rhubarb and floral flavor that can add a lot to a cocktail, but I find them a little on the sweet side and don't like that they contain artificial flavoring. I've heard rave reviews for the Brooklyn Hemispherical rhubarb bitters, but they can be hard to find, and since you're paying for a hand-crafted product made with local and organic ingredients, they're a little pricey at $20 (plus shipping) for a four-ounce bottle.

Why DIY?

Rhubarb bitters are fun to make because there's a lot of room for experimentation. Chop up some rhubarb, add a bittering element and whatever else you think will taste good with rhubarb. Try grapefruit peel and rose petals for a gentle, floral bitters, or use allspice or anise for something spicier. Then steep it in some alcohol and you, my friend, have artisan rhubarb bitters.

Rhubarb is in season right now, so most farmers markets and grocery stores have plenty of this gorgeous magenta vegetable available. Rhubarb bitters may be rare, but rhubarb sure isn't.

I was inspired by the flavor profile of a floral gin when I came up with the ingredients in the recipe. So I combined the rhubarb with chamomile, lavender, juniper, and coriander along with lemon and lime.

Use It!

I like to mix my homemade grenadine with sparkling water and top it off with a healthy dose of rhubarb bitters. A few dashes of your rhubarb bitters will also liven up a gin and tonic, glass of club soda, or iced tea.

Drop a sugar cube in a champagne flute, give it a generous dousing with your DIY rhubarb bitters, then top off with sparkling wine for a twist on the classic Champagne cocktail. These bitters are especially delicious in Champagne cocktails like the French 75.

For the bold, the cocktail that I think really shows off what rhubarb bitters can do is the Ruirita, a Margarita gone bitter with a little Cynar. The rhubarb picks up the vegetal notes in the tequila while balancing the bitterness of the Cynar.

Rhubarb bitters also go well in a cognac drink, like Jackson Cannon's Cold Spring cocktail, which uses maple syrup as its sweetener.

And, while I personally don't want any rhubarb in my strawberry pie, I definitely do want it in my strawberry cocktails.