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Rhubarb season is here. A once-in-a-year event worthy of celebration, because there's more to rhubarb than crumble. Its puckery zing zaps tastebuds to life after a long winter. Nostalgic memories follow - of plucking and chopping rhubarb stalks, fingertips stained scarlet, and the bubble of the pot as it boils to a fruity pulp.
Rhubarb has been grown in the fertile glens of Perthshire and Angus for generations. Humble and hardy, rhubarb is often overlooked compared to raspberries and strawberries. Yet it's a hidden gem in Scotland's naturally rich larder.
As far as we're aware, there are no bothy ballads praising rhubarb. A tragedy! So today we're singing rhubarb's praises as a key ingredient in our spring gin. If you've yet to taste the refreshing delight of rhubarb gin cocktails keep reading for a special Gin Bothy recipe.
When is fresh rhubarb in season?
Rhubarb heralds spring in Scotland. Blushing pink or rosy red, rhubarb's refreshingly tart flavour often evokes memories of Granny's delicious homemade crumbles, served with lashings of silky custard. But its puckery sharpness leaps to life in sorbet or summery drinks.
Rhubarb season begins in April. Rascally leaves sprawl as spring progresses, while stalks thicken and deepen in colour to juicy-apple red. We're lucky to live in the Strathmore Valley, where the special climate and soil conditions make rhubarb feel at home.
Nestled between the ominous beauty of the Grampian mountains and the gentle roll of the Sidlaw Hills, this arable valley is home to an abundance of flora and fauna. Salmon leap and trout shimmer in the silvery rivers, the bellow of mighty red deer echoes off the hillside, and native woodlands hold rich pickings for botanical foragers (like us!).
Soft fruit might be the jewel in Strathmore's crown, but rhubarb is the unsung hero in these lands. Easy to grow, easy to prepare, this homely crop conceals more calcium than strawberries. Stew, poach, roast, pair with oily fish - rhubarb's versatility is legendary. We've been known to make rhubarb cocktails extra special with a dash of ginger. Rhubarb and ginger play well together. The combination of invigorating spice and tart sweetness is sure to warm on the chilliest of spring bothy nights.
Our rhubarb and ginger jam is a popular pick up at The Bothy Experience in Glamis.
At this time of year we're busy bottling and batching our delicious infusion of rhubarb gin liqueur. Inspired by the traditions of the past, we only use what's in season. So it's important to not miss out.
When to harvest fresh rhubarb
In days gone by you couldn't nip to the supermarket and grab ingredients off the shelf. Fresh produce like rhubarb had to be harvested by hand.
At the height of summer 'berry busses' would bring soft fruit pickers to Angus and Perthshire from the big cities. Rhubarb season started slightly earlier in spring. The first rhubarb stalks can be pulled in April, and the season continues into summer.
Old traditions flourish at our bothy in historic Kirriemuir. Following Scotland’s fruit calendar our Rhubarb Gin Liqueur is the second gin we batch in the year. Crafted with care, all our drinks are made with fresh local ingredients, gathered in season from the Angus and Perthshire countryside.
Our ancestors knew something about patience. The long wait between each season, a growing sense of anticipation, followed by the sheer joy of embracing fruits and flavours only available at certain times. The abundance of delicious produce on our doorstep ought to be used respectfully. Summer's first strawberry tastes better if you've had to wait an entire year for it!
How to harvest rhubarb (and is it good for you?)
Pull and twist - that's the best way to harvest rhubarb.
Unless you want withered stalks, leave the knife in the kitchen drawer. When you pull and twist, the stalk will separate near the roots. The plant will then grow a new stalk in its place, leading to a more bountiful harvest next season.
Long stems, a deep-red colour with greenish streaks, and unfurled leaves are signs that rhubarb is ripe. Leave the leaves alone; they contain poisonous oxalic acid. Otherwise, enjoy the health benefits of robust rhubarb: it's rich in vitamin C, vitamin K, and high in fibre. You can eat the stalks raw, but most prefer them cooked.
Respectful knowledge of our seasonal ingredients is at the heart of what we do. There's nothing better than savouring the fruits of the harvest once the hard work is done. Whether that's a delicious gin cocktail shared with friends or sipping from a hip flask and admiring the sunset over the hills.
How To Cook Rhubarb
Once a school dinner staple, rhubarb's charmed its way out of homely puddings and onto haute cuisine platters. Pan-fried duck breast with rhubarb glaze, beef tenderloin drizzled in rhubarb sauce, baked timbale with rhubarb compote...it's a far cry from the humble kailyard, and shows how diverse an ingredient rhubarb can be.
Kailyards, or kitchen-gardens, provided a lifeline to many impoverished Scots. In hard times, hardy greens like rhubarb and cabbage offered sustenance when meat was scarce.
Now you might ask, is rhubarb a fruit or a vegetable? Technically rhubarb is a vegetable, with a crisp crunch akin to celery. Historically though, it's been used like a fruit.
Classic pairings of ginger and strawberries reinforce rhubarb's reputation as a sweet. Even roasted rhubarb is eaten alongside ice cream. Both home cooks and Michelin-starred chefs seem to agree that rhubarb's best partner is sugar — lots of it.
Stewed rhubarb with granulated sugar or caster sugar to balance its natural sourness. Be careful not to overdo it, though. The tart taste is what makes rhubarb special.
Rhubarb's versatility has also translated to drinks cuisine. As early as the 18th-century rhubarb has been used in cocktails. During Prohibition-era America the "Rhubarb Fizz" gained popularity — a mixture of gin, rhubarb syrup, and soda water.
Keep reading for a Gin Bothy rhubarb cocktail recipe!
Making Rhubarb Gin
We began our gin journey by accident. Rather than let fruit juice from jam-making go to waste, founder Kim began experimenting. After a trial infusion of gin with fruit (zero waste!) the Gin Bothy was born.
Gin soaked rhubarb has been popular since the Victorian era. Even the kitchen gardens at Buckingham Palace grew rhubarb (it's where Victoria Rhubarb gets its name). In Scotland, the abundance and cheapness of the crop made homemade rhubarb gin a natural choice.
In some ways, how we make gin today hasn't changed much from the old ways of homemade rhubarb gin. You can still find us foraging for pine and heather, or eagerly awaiting the first pull of the rhubarb stalks. We use traditional methods of production - every bottle is numbered, batched, and poured by hand.
A gin bottle from us tells the story of Scotland's seasons. It's an infusion of nature and culture. A distillation of our respectful, cherished relationship with rural Scotland. It’s why we only use fresh, local strawberries, raspberries, refreshing rhubarb, and botanicals for our fruit-infused gins. It's why we place stories at our heart. A good bottle of rhubarb gin, a place to shelter after a long day, and swapping stories with kindred souls — that's the Gin Bothy spirit.
Rhubarb Gin, the Taste of Spring
Rhubarb stalks dipped in a poke (bag) of sugar used to be a special springtime treat for Scottish school children. Crunchy and tart, with a flavour akin to sour cherries, rhubarb was the fizzy sweet of its day.
Rhubarb gin transports you to those bygone times. Savour a slower pace of life. Sit a wee while. Listen to the chatter of blackbirds in the hedgerow. Smell the new blossom on the apple tree. Take a sip of delightfully pink gin. Sweet, sharp rhubarb lingers on the tongue and brings a twinkle to the eye.
To toast rhubarb season in style, why not try a rhubarb and ginger gin cocktail?
Our Best Recipe For Rhubarb Gin Cocktails
Rhubarb's draw-in-the-cheeks sharpness leaves a sour taste in some mouths. But these delicious, fruity rhubarb gin cocktails taste sweet and spicy, the perfect accompaniment to spring's lighter nights.
It's common to serve rhubarb and ginger gin with tonic water. This recipe favours soda water. Why? Because the bitterness of tonic water can spoil the cocktail's flavours.
Ingredients for 2
Gin Bothy Rhubarb Gin Liqueur - 100 ml (double shot per person)
Finely diced Fennel and grated Fresh Ginger - 110 g
Freshly Squeezed Lemon - 50 ml
Serve with a stick of rhubarb.
Add all the ingredients except the soda to a shaker.
Fill two-thirds of the way up with ice and give a good shake for 20 seconds.
Strain the mixture into the glass and top with soda water.
A drop of grenadine will transform the deep pink colour to vibrant red.
Serve with finely peeled rhubarb, place in ice cold water to make it curl, then swizzle around a herb sprig.
Ginger gin brings warmth to cool evenings. Coorie by the fire to best enjoy this infusion of sweetness and spice.
Gin Bothy Rhubarb Infused Liqueur - 35 ml
Freshly Squeezed Lime
Add the Gin Bothy Rhubarb Liqueur to a glass with crushed ice
Top up with Ginger Ale
Finish with a squeeze of Lime
Garnish with a Cinnamon Stick (you could also grate in fresh ginger for added kick)
We hope you'll join us in raising a glass (or flask!) to the first fruits of spring, and the humble merits of delicious rhubarb! If you enjoyed these rhubarb gin recipes, why not read more on our recipe blog?