Root Cocktails to Dig: Beets, parsnips and carrots push the culinary cocktail to new depths

Toddies in winter, G&Ts in summer – there has always been a seasonality to cocktailing. But these days, when farm to table is the ubiquitous philosophy for any kitchen worth its salt, seasonal sipping goes beyond juleps in May or Manhattans in December. Local and seasonal have made the jump from stove to shaker with many a menu sporting cocktails that feature fresh fruit and lighter-flavored vegetables: raspberries in early summer, watermelon and cucumbers mid-season and peaches in September.

This fall, liquid locavores are pushing the farm-to-glass trend even further, with several local cocktail programs featuring drinks made with root vegetables. Such a leap shouldn’t be all that surprising: Beets, carrots and parsnips star in autumn dishes, after all, and if it tastes good on the plate, it stands to reason it’ll taste good in the glass. But it’s not just about taste. Bartenders prize these earthy ingredients for their natural sweetness, savory flavors and vibrant color, while beverage directors value them for how well they connect the kitchen and bar. “These drinks are meant to go with the food,” said Michael Murphy, beverage director for Niche and sister restaurants Brasserie, Pastaria and Taste. “They prime you for what’s coming and provide cohesiveness to the whole experience.”

The Roots
Beet simple syrup, aquavit, ginger liqueur, Cynar
and lemon

Billy Holley, bar manager at Tree House Restaurant, was inspired to use root vegetables at the bar after reading about a beet martini in a magazine. “We already have beets on the menu, so there’s always scrap available,” he explained. “And that sustainable element ties in with the theme of the restaurant.”

But making the idea a reality took trial and error – “kind of mad scientist stuff,” he laughed. Holley tried infusing vodka and gin with beets but found the concoction to be “too inky,” so he took a different avenue, adding puréed beets to hot simple syrup. The mixture – thick and earthy-sweet – was a winner, and now it forms the basis for The Roots, the vegetarian restaurant’s culinary-forward drink. “A lot of cocktails lean toward the sweet side,” Holley said, “but the beet sugar brings a savory element for balance.” Holley rounds out the cocktail’s flavor profile with other root vegetable flavors and citrus juice. “Beets and ginger are a natural flavor pairing,” he explained. “We played around with candied ginger, but it wasn’t right, so we moved to the Big O Ginger Liqueur, which is a really nice local product.” Cynar artichoke liqueur and lemon juice add depth and brightness, while aquavit from Midwestern microdistillery North Shore Distillery keeps things regional and adds a well-spiced kick. Garnished with a floating basil leaf and a radish wheel, the jewel-toned drink turns heads when it’s walked to a table.

Tree House Restaurant, 3177 S. Grand Blvd., St. Louis, 314.696.2100,

Carrot Margarita
Carrot juice, house-infused mango-chile tequila, lemon juice, Cointreau and agave nectar

At Atomic Cowboy, it was the addition of a new kitchen gadget that set the wheels in motion for the restaurant’s Carrot Margarita (The Beetnik, a beet version, is also available.). When the The Grove hot spot added breakfast to its offerings about eight months ago, a juicer became part of the kitchen’s arsenal, and fresh vegetable juices – including carrot and beet – became a morning menu mainstay. “That juice is short-lived,” explained co-owner Jim Kellogg, “so we wanted to figure out how to use it in other areas, and we thought the margarita would be a good fit.”

It was a good hunch: The sweet-savory notes of the carrot juice turned out to be a perfect pairing for the smokiness of the tequila. From there, it took just a bit of fine-tuning, tweaking the sour and sweet elements of the classic margarita depending on the juice used. “Lemon works well with the carrot, lime with the beet,” said Kellogg, who was quick to credit former employee Constance Steinkamp with Atomic Cowboy’s addition of fresh vegetable juices. “For the sweetness, we found that Cointreau works better with the carrot, and Grand Marnier with the beet.” And both worked well with the salt-and-pepper rim already in use on the bar’s bloody mary. The drink’s nuanced flavor and vibrant color have made it a hit with patrons and, not surprisingly, a new standard on the menu.

Atomic Cowboy, 4140 Manchester Ave., St. Louis, 314.775.0775,

Parsnip Flavor Ice
Parsnip juice, rum, lime, dill and sugar

Culinary cocktails may take cues from the kitchen, but they tend to originate at the bar. The chefs at Niche, however, are turning that formula around, creating vegetable-based frozen cocktails for use on the restaurant’s tasting menu, including one made from juiced parsnips, rum, dill and sugar. “It’s got a profile like a piña colada – sweet, funky, tart,” explained chef-owner Gerard Craft. “Parsnips are like candy, and that made me think of Caribbean drinks, but a lot more Midwestern.” The cocktail’s clean-flavored sweetness paired with the kick of the alcohol make it an effective intermezzo; the fact that it’s served just like a mini Fla-Vor-Ice popsicle and eaten by squeezing it out of its plastic tube adds creativity and levity to the fine-dining experience. “Dining gets so serious,” Craft said. “You need to loosen people up and give them some fun.”

Niche, 7734 Forsyth Blvd., Clayton, 314.773.7755,

Lavender Beets Knees
Golden beet-infused gin, lavender honey and lemon juice

The playfulness continues at the bar at Niche, where bartenders mix up a twist on the classic Bee’s Knees cocktail by infusing golden beets into gin. The drink was the result of a desire to make a cocktail that correlated with a dish from the kitchen that featured lavender and beets. “Red beets can be overpowering,” explained Murphy. “But golden beets, when they’re roasted, take on the seductive sweet-savory component we were looking for.” When infused into Pinckney Bend gin, a “very clean spirit” made in New Haven, Mo., that features a very light juniper flavor, the spirit takes on a golden hue and a delicate, earthy flavor that complements the floral notes of the lavender honey. Fresh lemon juice lends a balancing zing, as does the lavender salt rim on the glass.

Niche, 7734 Forsyth Blvd., Clayton, 314.773.7755,