We expected this to be a tough challenge. We knew there would come a week when we would look at our amazing array of produce from Featherstone Farm and thing “there is no way any of this will make a tasty cocktail.” We’d be tempted to cheat – maybe by using something from the farmer’s market, maybe by repeating an ingredient, maybe by using Romaine lettuce as a giant garnish. But we didn’t expect it to happen on week two.
I don’t know why I was optimistic – I live in Minnesota where the seasons come and go as fast as Taylor Swift’s boyfriends. It can be 90 in April and 50 in June. Heck, it can be 90 and 50 in the same week. What I’m saying is that late Spring/early Summer is tough for farmers around here. That we have any local produce is a miracle some years.
This week’s box contained spinach, red and romaine lettuce, garlic chives, asparagus, kale, rhubarb, and beet greens (with a few tiny roots). While we may eventually repeat an ingredient (but only if we can use it in a dramatically different way), we didn’t want to use rhubarb two weeks in a row. I mean we already admitted that rhubarb is practically cheating by being a veggie we treat as a fruit. I’m not ready to dive into salad green cocktails yet so we turned to the other vibrant option – the beet greens.
Let me be clear – I do not like beets. At. All. I’ve had one or two that were roasted and caramelized until they were almost palatable. Almost. But I knew that beets were going to show up and I knew Chris would want to try them in a cocktail.
These beets came to us as beet greens but we decided to use the tender stalks. There was one dime sized root but most of these were (for lack of a better term) embryonic beets. I was hoping this would mean a more delicate flavor (i.e. not dirt) and was mostly right. Chris opted to chop the stems and roots and then soak them in vodka for 24 hours in order to get all the beety goodness (Kate says “HA!”) extracted. The vodka turned a light pink within minutes and a deep magenta by the next day. I hoped that Chris would bury the beet flavor under sugar and booze – but he stubbornly insisted on trying to accentuate different parts of the flavor with two different cocktails.
For both cocktails, he was inspired by a beet salad he once had with beets, oranges, and raisins. This led to him building a foundation of a nice raisiny Cognac and the locally made Tattersall Orange Crema (similar to a curacao). For cocktail number one he merely added some orange bitters for structure along with a flamed orange peel. Cocktail number two went in a Sidecar direction by bringing in lemon juice and 11 Wells Allspice Liqueur to brighten the overall beet flavor.
Amazingly enough, I enjoyed both drinks though the “Sidecar” won me over with the Allspice. The warmth of the liqueur evoked the caramelization of a well roasted beet and the lemon juice cut through the dreaded earthiness without hiding it. Cocktail number one was beautiful in its simplicity but was a bit too heavy for my tastes. In both cases I believe the delicate young stalks conveyed much of the distinctive beet flavor without the bitterness that comes with age. Wait, am I still talking about vegetables or did I veer into self-analysis? Beets me.
Cocktail #1 – Bonnes Beets
3/4 oz Beet Vodka
1 oz Orange Crema (or Orange liqueur)
2 oz Cognac
2 dashes orange bitters
Stir and serve over ice. Garnish with an orange peel, ideally flamed
Cocktail #2 – (All Things) Bright and Beetiful
3/4 oz Beet Vodka
1 oz Tattersall Orange Crema (or Orange liqueur)
2 oz Cognac
1 oz Lemon Juice
1/2 oz 11 Wells Allspice Liqueur (or Allspice Dram)
Shake with ice, strain, serve with a lemon twist.