Once upon a time in America, celery—yes, celery—was the hottest thing to hit the food scene since, I don’t know, turnips? Aristocratic Victorian households had expensive crystal vases whose only job was to show off celery, its leafy green top arrayed like a floral centerpiece on the dining room table.
But then flashier vegetables came along and relegated celery to the status of sorry sidekick to the Buffalo wing and the Bloody Mary. Today, the familiar stringy green stalks are poised for a comeback as an increasing number of bartenders are casting celery in a starring role in cocktails. “There are very few things on earth fresher than fresh celery,” says Dave Arnold of New York City’s Existing Conditions. Keep your winter going strong with these three celery-centric drinks.
Celery Sour (Biltong Bar, Atlanta)
South African–inspired beef jerky bar Biltong uses fresh celery juice and toasted celery seeds to get max vegetal flavor for its Celery Sour. The celery mix is shaken with pineapple-infused gin, cucumber bitters and Greek yogurt, which does the emulsive work of egg whites but adds a tangier kick. “It takes a bit of convincing, because people are thrown off when they see all those ingredients in the same sentence,” says bar manager James Cramer. “But they come together in a way that’s bigger than the sum of its parts.”
Celery Soda (Russ & Daughters, New York City)
Dr. Brown’s Cel-Ray soda has been a staple of Jewish delis since before New York’s iconic Russ & Daughters opened on the Lower East Side in 1914. Sodas and tonics made from celery seeds were in demand for their health-promoting properties; some even thought of it like a kind of liquid Viagra. These days, Russ & Daughters offers its own take on Cel-Ray, made by boiling down seven pounds of celery stalks with sugar to make a syrup, then adding toasted celery seed, black peppercorn and cardamom pods. Mixed with seltzer, it’s an effervescent, peppery quaff so refreshing you almost forget it’s nonalcoholic.
Heat Ray (Pok Pok, Portland, Ore.)
Growing up “a nice Jewish boy in New York,” Pok Pok bar manager Dave Kaufman found the bitter, peppery and sweet flavors of Dr. Brown’s Cel-Ray to be the perfect complement to a salty, fatty pastrami sandwich. “The Heat Ray is a spin on that combo," he says. Kaufman concocted this cocktail to showcase the restaurant’s house-made Chinese celery som, or drinking vinegar, which he combines with tequila, slivered Thai chile and fresh lime juice in a shaker with ice, then strains and serves up. “It has a tart and spicy taste that goes along with Pok Pok's salty/sour/sweet flavor profiles,” he says.
OG Celery (Existing Conditions, New York City)
NYC cocktail vets Dave Arnold and Don Lee scoured the tri-state area to source the 40 pounds of celery tops required to make their tech-fueled signature drink, the OG Celery, a twist on the shaken gin sour that makes creative use of those celery tops the Victorians loved so much. Celery and parsley leaves are “nitro-muddled”—flash-frozen with the help of liquid nitrogen, then pulverized into a fine powder—and shaken with two ounces of Tanqueray, orange syrup (made from OJ knocked up to 50 BRICs, the same as simple syrup) and a few drops of liquid salt. Then the whole mixture is strained into a bowl-shaped coupe glass that has also been chilled with liquid nitrogen. “Gin and celery are really good buddies,” says Arnold. And the flavor? “Fresh-fresh-fresh, punch-punch-punch.”