Monday, October 20, 2008

celery bitters

Back in the 1800's and early 1900's, a variety of snake oil-like medicines full of bitter botanicals found their way into cocktail mixing glasses for their flavor and not their medicinal claims. One of them was celery bitters which were sold by many companies including Brod, Gold Lion, Gladstone, and Paine (a bottle collector's page here). Celery seeds have a celery odor and taste with an extra bit of bitterness to them that mixologists of yore found to be quite tasty in certain cocktails.

Up until recently, celery bitters were a defunct bar reagent. The German company, the Bitter Truth, has concocted some; however, I have not spotted a bottle in Massachusetts and the best I could do is pay for it to be shipped over here. Considering the last time I had bitters shipped to my house (Peychaud's) which resulted in the only package I have ever had turn up as missing but officially "delivered" by the USPS, I decided to wait. Impatience took over and I tried my own hand at a recipe.

I designed this recipe having never tasted the Bitter Truth's apparently amazing product and only heard that it had citrus tones to it. I decided to take it in a different direction. I was inspired by the concept of a British soda containing dandelion and burdock[1] and based the recipe around celery seeds and these two botanicals:
Yarm's Celery Bitters
• 40 grams Celery Seed
• 10 grams Burdock Root
• 10 grams Barberry Root
• 5 grams Dandelion Leaf
• 5 grams Gentian
• 5 grams Cardamon Pod
• 3 grams Spearmint (fresh)
• 2 grams Corriander Seed
Add 10 oz Bacardi 151 proof Rum and 5 oz water. Let infuse for 10 days with frequent mixing. Filter through a coffee filter, and bottle.

My first scaled-up batch of bitters were rather delightful during the infusion process in the overproof rum. However, when I added the water to cut down the alcohol, it underwent an intense louching. Much of the flavor precipitated out of solution and later attempts to increase the alcohol only helped slightly. The second batch was not as flavorful either due to a differently sourced batch of celery seeds or because I was only using 100 proof alcohol instead of 150 proof during the infusion process.

I discussed this project with Jackson Cannon of Eastern Standard, and he recommended trying it with Pimm's since it works well with vegetable flavors (although Hendrick's gin might also work in the same way). My idea was to use rhum agricole to match the funkiness of bitters. To bring the two together, I changed Eastern Standard's recipe for the Rye and Dry accordingly:
Rhum and Dry
• 1 oz Rhum JM
• 1 oz Pimm's No. 1
• 1 oz Noilly Prat Dry Vermouth
• 3 dash Celery Bitters
Stir on ice and strain into a cocktail glass.

Jackson was right in how the celery flavors would work well with the Pimm's, and I found the herbalness of the rest of the bitters to complement the rhum agricole. The cocktail had a rather pleasant celery aftertaste with a bit of extra complexity over the dry vermouth flavors. While the bitters seem to have a much less limited range than say Angostura in cocktails, I was not disappointed with the end result.

[1] Nov 12, 2008 postnote: A blog I just found today gives a great homemade dandelion and burdock syrup recipe for making your own soda:


Stephan Berg said...

Hi, i just came across your post about celery bitters-a little late indeed but...
i would like to try your version of celery bitters, i may pass you in exchange a bottle of my own-the bitter truth.
Let me know if you are up for that.


frederic said...

I would be up for that but I am out of the 5 bottles I made (save for my opened bottle). I did enjoy yours once I finally got a chance to taste them. I think we took the bitters in two different directions. Cheers!