Certain flavor combinations make me a happy guy. Beet juice and Sherry is one of those! Different styles of Sherry work well in a lot of savory, culinary-inspired cocktails: fino sherry with celery juice and amontillado sherry with roasted red pepper puree are a couple of my favorites to play with.
While working on a cocktail for an upcoming gala, we had a request that "the cocktail incorporate red beets in some way, shape, or form." I kept coming back to a favorite salad of mine--arugula, red beets, sliced almonds, topped with a splash of sherry vinaigrette--and how I might be able to incorporate some of those flavors into a cocktail. I had also used baby golden beet juice with sherry in past cocktails, so I had a feeling sherry and red beets would be a nice combination.
Here was the initial thought process and brainstorm:
red beets = use fresh beet juice
arugula = I didn't want to use arugula in the drink, but the peppery, vegetal notes found in arugula could be brought to the drink in other ways, perhaps by making a savory syrup consisting of peppercorns and a few other ingredients. Maybe the savory syrup could be combined with the beet juice and some neutral alcohol to create a cordial of sorts?
sliced almonds = for a nutty note in the cocktail, I could use amontillado sherry. The subtle, tangy acidity of the sherry could also be a plus in the overall flavor profile and mouthfeel of the cocktail (much like the vinaigrette added a tangy note to my favorite salad)
spirit = vodka or gin? both could work. vodka would be more of a blank canvas. The botanicals in gin could work really well too, perhaps Hendricks? What about cucumber vodka? Cucumber plays well with red beets, the savory syrup, and sherry, so the cucumber profile of the vodka could be a really nice addition (now vodka wasn't just a blank canvas for the cocktail anymore, it was now adding flavor to the drink)
And that's how I got the ball rolling! To start the R&D process, I made a beet cordial to work from. The cordial combined 1 part fresh red beet juice with 2 parts of a sweet & savory syrup (bay leaf, black peppercorns, thyme, lemon peels, sugar, and water), and a bit of overproof vodka. So with savory, earthy beet cordial in hand, I started looking for flavors that shared an affinity with the ingredients and overall flavor profile of the cordial (using ideas from that initial brainstorm session to move forward).
In addition to the savory beet cordial, I had amontillado sherry, lemon juice, and cucumber vodka (or perhaps gin) on my list of possible cocktail ingredients. Now it was time to start playing around with ratios and making some cocktails...a.k.a. "the fun part!" After several test-runs, I settled on cucumber vodka as the base spirit, nailed down the measurements, and a delicious new cocktail was born:
The Beet Goes On
savory red beet cordial, amontillado sherry, lemon juice, cucumber vodka
shaken and served "up" in a chilled coupe glass
For a garnish, I'm thinking about a skewered, paper thin pickled beet wheel lightly dusted with a spice mix of some sort. Perhaps crushed almonds, cracked black pepper, and sea salt. Time to go pickle some beets! Cheers :)