9.18.2011

Underused Cocktail Ingredients: Celery Bitters

In 2008, the Bitter Truth won the Spirit of the Year Award for their celery bitters, though in some ways you would never know it. While individually lauded as a cocktail ingredient and included as a staple on most back bars, you would be hard pressed to find menus that actually are pushing the complex, relatively polarizing ingredient. It is a shame. It really is a wonderful product. But because it really does have a very potent celery taste that is both herbaceous and bright, small doses even for bitters are usually the best way to go. In fact I have only seen one heavily bittered cocktail based on celery bitters--though I don't think many more will be forthcoming. The truth is that they don't work with everything. Even in old bar guides, drinks that call for celery bitters can be hard to track down. Though many of them are worth the effort of locating. More often than not, when I even try to  incorporate them into a cocktail, the result goes beyond bad. But when it works, oh my god does it work! Basically celery bitters are like the girl with curl: good means very, very good, bad equates to a sink donation.

While it may sound weird, unlike cranberry bitters and even rhubarb bitters, celery bitters have actually been around for a really long time. Popularized in the early 19th century for their alleged health benefits, celery bitters were actually sold as a health tonic. It is not surprising that they ended up in cocktails. Almost every liquid with potential health benefits has found their way into cocktails--because of course bartenders are really looking out for all of us. With the onset of Prohibition, all bitters were doomed. Though it is doubtful that any other type of bitters was so likely a candidate for becoming defunct than celery bitters. But thankfully, since the resurgence of interest in all things defunct as well as things just tremendously obscure, celery bitters are back. But, you might ask, what now? How do I use them? They are actually very popular in my house and I am always on the lookout for new uses. Here are some of my favorites.

Gin
It shouldn't surprise anyone that celery bitters go really well with gin, and all things juniper in nature. Gin very easily lends itself to more savory drinks, and thus all the botanicals tend to play nicely. It is probably the easiest way to use celery bitters.

Ephemeral (adapted from Chuck Taggert's recipe, created by Dave Shenaut)

1 1/2 ounces old Tom gin
1 ounce Dolin blanc
2 bar spoons elderflower liqueur
3 dashes celery bitters

Combine ingredients in an ice-filled mixing glass. Stir and strain into a chilled cocktail glass. Garnish with a grapefruit twist.

Notes on Ingredients: I used Ransom old Tom, Bitter Truth celery bitters, and Pur elderflower liqueur.

Rum
Rum may seem more of a stretch and there are certainly plenty of rum drinks that would be utterly ruined with the addition of celery bitters. But rum and celery bitters are not mutually exclusive. Celery's potent vegetal aromatics mingle exceptionally well with citrus, a common ingredient in many rum drinks. Also the more vegetal rhum agricole pairs exceedingly well with the crisp bright flavors of celery bitters. But let's not get ahead of ourselves. For some reason the Daiquiri just popped in my mind when considering celery and rum. And lo and behold it works quite nicely.

Celery Daiquiri

1 1/2 ounces white rum
3/4 ounce simple syrup
3/4 ounce lime juice
1-2 dashes celery bitters

Shake ingredients with ice and strain into a chilled cocktail glass.

Notes on Ingredients: I usually use Cruzan white rum. A darker rum will definitely up the ante, though care must be needed to not alienate the celery. My simple syrups are almost always 1:1 with natural sugar. Bitter Truth celery bitters were used as well.

Aquavit
Aquavit is another of those ingredients that can be hard to find on menus, though this trend seems to be changing albeit slowly. It is hardly surprising that aquavit's polarizing caraway and anise flavors make it a bit harder to match things with. Yet, it is almost ironic how well it pairs with celery. With this cocktail, just a simple substitution and a little tweaking yielded wonderful results.

Aquavit Vesper

1 1/2 ounces aquavit
1/2 ounce vodka
1/4 Dolin blanc
1 dash orange bitters
1 dash celery bitters

Combine the ingredients in an ice-filled mixing glass. Stir and strain the contents into a chilled cocktail glass. Garnish with a lemon twist.

Notes on Ingredients: I used Linie aquavit, Chopin vodka, Regan's orange bitters, and the Bitter Truth celery bitters.

Tequila
Tequila, and especially blanco tequilas, have a wonderful green, menthol flavor that matches very nicely with celery bitters. One of the best examples that I am aware of comes from Phil Ward, owner of Mayahuel and bartender extraordinaire. Pairing dry vermouth, blanco tequila and green chartreuse, among other things, creates a lovely herbal drink that both highlights the celery bitters and shows off how well they can play with others.

Loop Tonic (created by Phil Ward)

2 ounces blanco tequila
1 ounce dry vermouth
1/2 ounce Green Chartreuse
1/2 ounce simple syrup
3/4 ounce lime juice
1 dash celery bitters

Shake ingredients with ice and strain into a highball glass filled with ice. Garnish with a slice of celery.

Notes on Ingredients: I used Dolin extra dry, a 1 to 1 simple syrup and El Relingo tequila.

Whiskey
This cocktail is perhaps my favorite drink that uses celery bitters. This creation was introduced late in the nineteenth century, but is most notable for its inclusion in Charles Baker's Gentleman's Companion--one of his absolute home runs. There is just something about the way that a Manhattan is altered by the herbal notes of the celery that make it seem so massively different. But all that is added a dash. In fact, I wouldn't be surprised if it was the interplay between the sweet vermouth and the celery that is actually taking center stage. I think further experimentation is in order.

Fourth Regiment (adapted from Charles Baker's The Gentleman's Companion by way of Robert Hess's Small Screen Network episode)

2 ounces rye
1 ounce sweet vermouth
1 dash Peychaud's style bitters
1 dash orange bitters
1 dash celery bitters

Combine ingredients in a chilled mixing glass. Stir with ice and strain into a chilled cocktail glass. Garnish with a lime twist.

Notes on Ingredients: I used Rittenhouse rye, Punt e Mes, Angostura orange bitters, Bitter Truth Creole bitters, and of course, Bitter Truth celery bitters.

5 comments:

  1. Hi Courtney! I made us some Fourth Regiments tonight according to this recipe (though subbing in an orange twist because I didn't plan ahead and had no limes...) I used Willet 4-year, Carpano Antica, and Bitter Truth orange, celery and Creole bitters. They were great!

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  2. Dayne, I am so glad that you like it. I thought it might tempt you if you hadn't already had it. I have never tried it with an orange twist, but I am sure it further embellished the orange bitters. Usually when I find myself out of limes, I just leave it ungarnished, which works well, too.

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  3. Excellent - I've been wondering whatever to do with a bottle of Fee's Celery Bitters. Intriguing taste that is intensified by the smell of celery.

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  4. Had this the other day, very nice drink

    1.5oz Sombra Mezcal
    1oz lemon juice
    1oz simple syrup
    Dash of celery bitter(I used the home made variety)

    Shake and strain into a rocks glass.

    The smokiness of the mezcal plays well with the celery bitter.

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  5. Clément Shrubb Liqueur Creole Rhum and celery bitters (I used homemade). The sweetness of the orange rum renders it a perfect simple complement for celery bitters. The proportions are up to the beholder, as is the level of chilling. Garnish with an orange twist.

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