Back in the heyday of cocktails in the 19th century, a light tipple to lift up one’s morning was quite common, in addition to being a means of warding off illness. Today, it’s freshly juiced kale wheatgrass, young-coconut water, ginger and beets that come together for a different kind of alchemy in the morning. Increasingly, these flavors are finding their way into evening cocktails, often paired with the brightness of lemon or lime citrus that we still expect, resulting in a more healthful drink in the process.

At the newly opened vegetarian tapas bar Ladybird, in NYC’s West Village, cocktails are both lower-proof and have a focus on fresh ingredients not often found in the traditional cocktail lexicon. In creating a low-ABV shaken cocktail that resembles a margarita, bartender Ariel Arce landed on beet juice as the primary focus for her Red Rail cocktail. “I wanted to match the richness of the beets but still keep the drink light, so I used a tawny port and then for depth, a bitter digestif called Toccasana,” notes Arce. “The result ended up being simple, refreshing and session-able, like a margarita.”

Toccasana Amaro is similar to Fernet Branca and is a predominant flavor in the drink, with the beets retaining a subtle undertone in comparison and providing a deep red color. To retain the flavor of the beets, Ariel blends them in a Vitamix to emulsify both the juice and the pulp. She adds a small amount of coconut sugar before straining the beet juice from the pulp, which is then repurposed by the chef in their kitchen.

With no heavy base spirit, the combination of beet, amaro and port, brightened with lime, is surprisingly light and refreshing. Seeing beet on a cocktail menu might not be expected, but with drinks that are this well balanced and nuanced, it’s a welcome change of pace.

Red Rail

Servings: 1 cocktail

1½ ounces Niepoort Tawny Port NV
¼ ounce Toccasana Amaro di Piedmonte
1 ounce fresh beet juice
½ ounce fresh lime juice


  1. Combine ingredients into a shaker.
  2. Shake vigorously with ice and strain over a chilled rocks glass filled with ice.

Prep Time: 2 minutes
Difficulty: Easy