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.

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 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 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, 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.

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.

A Champagne Cocktail Worthy of Happy Hour: Ile de France Special

I am a big fan of the champagne cocktail. For many years I would have said that there was no better way to drink champagne. Granted I didn't much like champagne, or any sparkling wine, for that matter. But my tastes have changed. Over time, I discovered other beverages that put bubbly to good use--and some of them I would opine, are far superior to the champagne cocktail. For example, the Morning Glory Cocktail, with necessary champagne substitution, the Seelbach, the Jimmie Roosevelt,and the Old Cuban all come to mind. I am also partial to a negroni sblagliato. But those all require more than just dousing a sugar cube in bitters and dropping it in a glass of champers. The champagne cocktail is simple and elegant. Like the Old-Fashioned, it is a drink I never get sick of. I mean sure, I could just drink a glass of sparkling wine, but I could also just drink a glass of whiskey. Time and place are important factors here. Just like certain circumstances call for a champagne over a champagne cocktail, certain circumstances require, a term I use loosely, a jigger of whiskey neat over an Old-Fashioned. And how weird to find ourselves back at that fuzzy place where craving becomes an issue.

A champagne cocktail is my go-to alcoholic beverage to accompany brunch. I know that the overwhelming majority tends to favor the mimosa. I also know some people who lean toward a Ramos Gin Fizz or a Brandy Milk Punch--and sometimes I like to lean with them. Their company is usually exuberant and filled with possibilities, though a mid-day nap might also be required. But as I am sure I have posted before, a nice champagne cocktail creates the illusion of luxury and relaxation--exactly what brunch should mean. The unhurried gorging of oneself over hours, belts and comfort be damned. The problem is that other than for this occasional indulgence, I never look to a champagne cocktail. For some reason, they have been limited to brunch only. Thank goodness for Charles Baker, though its no surprise that he is posthumously forcing me to expand my drinking horizons.

Perhaps the reason why I never have a champagne cocktail after about three p.m. is because I don't take it seriously as a cocktail. It is a rather light drink, considering that it is simply a mildly flavored glass of wine. I usually crave a little kick At least for me, I tend to favor cocktails with a bit more of a kick in the evening. That's what is so wonderful about almost all of the champagne cocktails in Baker: at least four out of five have a slug of brandy in them. And this doesn't only up the ante on the kick. A smooth richness of flavor comes through as well. As far as the Ile de France Special specifically, mingle the brandy with the usual suspects (sparkling wine, syrup and bitters) and a float of yellow chartreuse and you get a perfectly herbal beverage that totally is perfect as the sun is sinking down the sky.

Ile de France Special (as adapted)

1/2 teaspoon simple sugar
1/2 ounce cognac
3 1/2 ounces champagne
1 dash orange bitters
1/8 ounce (1 bar spoon) yellow chartreuse

Into a chilled cocktail glass or flute, add syrup, cognac, and bitters. Stir gently to incorporate. Top with Champagne. Carefully float yellow chartreuse.


Tequila, Sherry, and Origin Stories

The world of cocktails is full of origin stories. The older and more well known a drink is, the more fascination surrounds its beginnings. Unfortunately, the details surrounding a beverage's journey from inspired idea to regional or even national prominence are usually hidden in the folds of inebriation. In the absence of fact, speculation abounds. Did the Martini originate in Martinez, California? Was the Manhattan created at the Manhattan Club in New York City for a banquet hosted by Winston Churchill's mother? Tall tales and outright mistruths are more common than actual facts. Usually nothing can illuminate the mysteries of a cocktail's birth. Luckily, those life-altering moments when you are wobbling on the cusp of change tend to stand out and are that much easier to recall, even if an event's importance is only acknowledged in retrospect. As time passes, those memories become embedded into our identity, like squares of fabric into a quilt--prominently displayed and openly cherished. I thought it was high time to share my own origin story, or at least as it pertains to classic cocktails.

Tracy and I were living in a one-story fourplex on a dead-end street in Portland, OR. As a freelance editor, I spent a lot of time in that house. At that time, cocktails were barely on my radar. While I did enjoy the occasional Manhattan or dram of bourbon, beer was my beverage of choice. But I had always been interested in mixing drinks, and when the occasion arose, I usually wielded the shaker. So when my twenty-seventh birthday rolled around, I was sort of a blank slate just waiting for the right decoration. Anything could have happened. In retrospect, it seems obvious that the next big thing was just around the corner, though I never would have guessed it. But while I was busy tearing wrapping paper, many spheres of influence were converging.

Awaiting its turn alongside a new set of bar tools, consequently, was the Art of the Bar. It's funny, but not entirely surprising, that it all started with a book. Little did I know that this particular cocktail book would not only drastically alter my drinking habits, but also the entire landscape of my life. To this day I remember flipping through its glossy pages lined with beautiful cocktails, both new and old. Now it was probably the stylistic design  that spoke loudest to me, all of those gorgeous garnishes dangling off the edges of beautiful stemware. I have always had an eye for great stems. But the effect of that book were instantaneous. I told Tracy right then and there that I was going to make each and every one of them. Though the years have passed and I still love looking through its pages, I never did make it to every cocktail. As my interest in cocktails grew, both newly released cocktail books and vintage bar books stole my attentions. Though I hate to admit it, more often than not, it sits on a book shelf waiting for me to get the urge to flip through its pages again.

Recently, while searching for cocktails with both sherry and tequila, the Internet led me to the Choke Artist. Though the name sounded vaguely familiar, my interest was piqued as the drink brought Cynar into the mix with the tequila and sherry that held my interest. I quickly discovered where I had run into this libation before: the Choke Artist is the creation of Jeffrey Hollinger and Rob Schwartz and is included in the Art of the Bar. It was one of the ones that had I had missed all those years ago. But then again, it wouldn't have even been on my radar back then. I hadn't yet acquired a taste for tequila and it would still have been a couple of years before I truly discovered sherry. I am sure I didn't even know what Cynar was. All that has changed of course. This drink is definitely one to try.

Choke Artist (as adapted)

1 1/2 ounces anejo tequila
1 ounce Cynar
3/4 ounce manzanilla sherry
2 dashes Regan's orange bitters

Stir ingredients in an ice-filled mixing glass. Strain into a chilled cocktail glass.

Notes on Ingredients: I used Don Julio anejo tequila, and Barbadillo manzanilla sherry.