Liquor Nerd: Vegetables may be totally repulsive, but don't let that stop you from getting creative at cocktail time

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      There’s no point pretending otherwise: vegetables are disgusting. Dispute that all you want, but not until you’ve served a five-year-old a plate loaded with equal portions of nutritious Hamburger Helper, Kraft Dinner, and raw sliced beets. Two of those things will disappear immediately. The other will be poked at suspiciously for a couple of seconds, and then pushed aside for an express trip to either the Garburator, green bin, or family-dog dish.

      The dog won’t eat the beets either. Same goes for the Garburator.

      Here’s a list of vegetables that you’ve learned to choke down for the sole reason that they are supposedly good for you: green beans, brussel sprouts, asparagus, broccoli, radishes, peas, eggplant, cabbage, cauliflower, carrots, and spinach.

      Think about how, to make all of the above even remotely palatable, you’ve had to come up with all sorts of tricks. Coating the brussel sprouts in a pomegranate-and-hazelnut reduction before roasting them over a mesquite pack of wood on the Saber Elite Series 670 barbecue. Tossing the cabbage in buttermilk, preserved lemon, and sumac to make an upscale version of trailer park-picnic coleslaw. Dusting the green beans in Himalayan sea salt and imported chipotle powder to mask the fact they are, well, green beans.

      If only there was a more enjoyable way to consume them. Like in, you know, cocktails, where the big advantage is that, after round four, you might actually forget you’ve just knocked back a serving of vegetables.

      Thanks to a modern mixology movement, that’s very much a thing in 2021.

      The idea of drinks that get their personality from vegetables isn’t new. Your grandparents were the first to discover that embracing ingredients with major health benefits didn’t have to be more disgusting than an oyster-mushroom smoothie. That explains why they made Caesar cocktails an essential part of every breakfast, lunch, dinner, and pre-bedtime snack.

      Here’s an interesting bit of trivia: the Caesar (known as a Bloody Caesar to fans of The Evil Dead, Gangs of London, and was invented in Canada, which not coincidentally is where it’s most widely consumed. After three months of trial and error in 1969, Calgary restaurateur Walter Chell perfected a mixture of vodka, tomato juice, clam broth, and Worcestershire sauce. The inspiration for the drink was Italy’s famed dish of spaghetti alle vongole—a key ingredient of which is fresh clams.

      Even though no one in history has previously thought “Man, this drink could really use a shot of clam nectar”, the Caesar was an immediate hit in Calgary, becoming the most-requested drink at Chell’s Calgary Inn. It promptly caught fire in Western Canada, after which word spread east. Today the Caesar is considered inarguable proof that Issey Nakajima-Farran, Bronwen Webster, and Jim Wych aren’t the only totally famous things from Cowtown.

      Oh, and don’t go arguing that tomatoes aren’t a vegetable. They are, even though one can still make a perfectly good case for them also being a fruit.

      Today, no one’s stopping at tomatoes when it comes to vegetable cocktails. One of the amazing things about this century’s cocktail renaissance is that drinks are limited only by the imaginations of the people making them. And if your favourite bartender can make you feel just a little bit healthier while you’re glued to a barstool—virtual or otherwise—it’s best to try and keep an open mind.

      The key to tackling vegetable cocktails starts with a juicer. If you’ve just won Lotto Max, spring for a Hamilton Beach Otto juice extractor, which will only run you somewhere in the neighbourhood of $5,000 in hideously devalued Canadian currency. Should that be a little out of reach on your Top Ramen budget, there’s a long laundry list of perfectly serviceable budget options on Amazon and elsewhere that run between $100 and $200. Then you start juicing.

      Keep in mind that whatever vegetable concoction you come up with will typically be only one ingredient in a drink. And that if something tastes disgusting before you add liquor and a sweetener, it’s not going to do a cocktail any favours.

      So by all means use your juicer to extract the liquid out of two kale leaves, a cucumber, and a couple of celery stalks, but add some extra flavour layers with a chunk of peeled lemon, a small piece of ginger, and a large Granny Smith apple. Strain and then embrace your inner Jolly Green Giant (or Little Green Sprout) by adding two ounces of your green juice to a shaker with one and half ounces of vodka, and 3/4 of an ounce of maple syrup. Strain into a glass, and add a pinch of sumac for colour.

      You know how exotic juice blends at your local supermarket will sometimes have carrots thrown into the mix with the papaya, guava, mango, and passionfruit? That’s because Bigwig’s favourite food has a natural sweetness that plays well with fruits of all sorts. (Give yourself two points if you just got the Watership Down reference.)

      Find a healthy common ground between a Margarita and Tequila Sunrise by taking two ounces fresh carrot juice and an ounce of fresh orange juice and then mixing with tequila, Cointreau, and fresh lime. Muddling jalapeño and fresh cilantro before adding ice to the shaker will add an extra couple of layers of complexity.

      Light and refreshing sound like the perfect thing for this most sunny of West Coast springs? A Cucumber Smash is idiotically easy to execute: lightly muddle three cucumber slices, fresh basil, and sugar, add gin and crushed ice, and then top with sparkling water. Staying in the green lane, riff on a Mojito by adding an ounce of celery juice to muddled fresh mint, Havana Club rum, simple syrup, and fresh lime.

      Getting the idea? From green beans to asparagus, most vegetables are light enough that you can play with them safely in your favourite cocktails without creating something that even Charles Bukowski wouldn’t drink.

      The exception? That would be beets and radishes, both of which make an inarguable case that vegetables are indeed totally disgusting, and not just to five-year-olds and dogs.

      Here’s the classic recipe for the greatest drink to ever come out of Calgary.


      1 oz vodka (go local with Sons of Vancouver or Odd Society)
      4 oz Clamato juice
      Two dashes Tabasco
      Three to four dashes salt and pepper
      Four dashes of Worcestershire

      Pour into an ice-filled glass rimmed with celery salt and garnish with a celery stalk and lime.