The Green Hornet at The Trenchermen is a traditional gin and tonic with celery… (Barry Brecheisen )
Few cocktail menus stray into savory territory. Sure, you have your trusty bloody mary at brunch, but for the most part, sweet, floral and herbal notes take the lead.
So it may turn a few heads to see the latest trendy drink ingredient in Chicago is a vegetable—celery, to be exact.
"You are seeing a lot of celery bitters around these days," said Charles Joly, the recently named beverage director at The Aviary in the West Loop. The Aviary's Micah Melton developed a cocktail (simply called "Celery") using both celery and celery bitters that's served as part of a $45 prix-fixe menu.
"I personally like [celery bitters] because it brings a fresh and savory note to a cocktail," Joly said. "It is a home run with gin and other herbal liqueurs [such as] green or yellow chartreuse."
At recently opened Wicker Park restaurant Trenchermen, beverage director Tona Palomino uses celery flavors in two cocktails: The Bridge and Tunnel ($10), a carbonated drink with celery bitters, and the Green Hornet ($12), which is a gin and tonic with celery juice.
"Celery has a very savory quality that is, at its heart, a sort of herbaceous and refreshing flavor," Palomino said. Like Joly, Palomino finds that the celery flavor blends well with gin and was inspired to create the Green Hornet when friends who were big gin and tonic drinkers stopped by his former bar when he happened to have some celery juice on hand.
"Both the gin and celery benefit from the melding," Palomino said. "People who aren't really gin drinkers like it because the flavor of the celery masks the gin and gin drinkers like it because in their mind the herbal character is enhanced by the celery."
Bartenders at Drumbar and City Tavern are also mixing up drinks with more subtle celery flavors. The Savor cocktail ($15) at Drumbar incorporates celery bitters into a blend of gin, egg white, lemon juice, cuvee and cardamom syrup. At City Tavern, the Medford Buck ($10) features rum, arak, lime juice and ginger beer are topped with celery bitters.
"[Celery bitters are a] combination of fresh celery and seed," Palomino said. "The blend has ... a very woody quality. I think the reason I like using it in the drink is because it allows you to kick up the celery quality of the drink. We just use just one dash and it's amazing the difference it makes."
For his Bridge & Tunnel drink, Palomino uses just two ounces of celery bitters in the five-gallon tank the drink is dispensed from.
"The drink is essentially pink lemonade," said Palomino, "but the lemon peel and the celery bitters allow the drink to have just a slight bitter edge ... it keeps it from being too simplistic."
The flavor may be popping up more often, but don't expect the trend to get too big.
"I don't think it's overkill—hello elderflower—and it takes a more gentle hand to make it work," Joly said.
The Aviary's Celery cocktail
2 ounces honeydew juice
1 ounce green chartreuse
1 1/2 ounces riesling
1/2 ounce simple syrup
1/2 ounce lime juice
Shake ingredients and strain into chilled coupe.
firstname.lastname@example.org | @redeyedrinks