Serious Eats: Drinks

DIY vs. Buy: How to Make Celery Bitters

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[Photograph: Marcia Simmons]

It seems that cocktail bitters are getting more and more specific and obscure. Sriracha bitters? Black-and-white cookie bitters? Coffee-chipotle bitters? Yep, all three of those exist. Depending on your drinking philosophy, you may find this unnecessary and pretentious or delightful and inspiring.

Celery bitters might sound like something that hipster mixologists invented while turning everything edible into a flavor of bitters, but cocktail curmudgeons can rest easy knowing that these bitters were actually around in the 1800s. Celery bitters went out of style around Prohibition and didn't come back until just a few years ago. A few drops of this savory and unusual concoction can completely change a classic cocktail—and inspire tons of new recipes.

What's Available to Buy

If you want to buy celery bitters, you'll have to have a really good liquor store nearby, or order them online. I love The Bitter Truth celery bitters, which have a strong celery-seed flavor layered with bold citrus and subtle spice. Fee Brothers also makes celery bitters, but their version doesn't have the same earthy zip as The Bitter Truth's. I'm still dying to try Scrappy's and Bittermens, which are a little more rare though not impossible to find.

Why DIY?

Internet magic can make a bottle of celery bitters appear at your doorstep, but shipping costs can turn a fun little splurge into a $20 or $30 investment. And you might not even be happy with what you get. The fun of homemade celery bitters is coming up with a list of demands for what you want your bitters to be like and then making it so.

While I like what's on the market right now, I was looking for a more savory and vegetal celery bitters without lemon and orange flavors popping in. I wanted some umami with the bitterness.

After cooking the solid ingredients a bit to bring out the flavor, my house had a familiar smell even though I'd never made these bitters before. It smelled a lot like instant ramen with a hint of lemongrass. Umami acheived! (And without any MSG.) I've possibly scared as many people with that tidbit as I've convinced. But just think of how totally kick-ass a little bit of soy sauce or Worcestershire sauce is in a Bloody Mary. The savory side of these bitters is a wonderful thing.

If you want to make something closer to The Bitter Truth's, you could add some lemon and orange zest along with ginger. Or you could go more herbal with some rosemary and thyme or dandelion and burdock. You can design whatever bitters you desire.

Get the Recipe

DIY Celery Bitters »

Use It!

The Bloody Mary was my celery bitters muse, and the stuff is made to turn that tomato-y brunch cocktail into a masterpiece.

A few dashes will also make a regular Martini into something special, or change up your Gin and Tonic. Celery bitters also add complexity to simple gin drinks like Stephan's Sour and the floral Don't Mind If I Do.

Though gin seems to be the go-to pairing, celery bitters are also really nice with the grassy notes of tequila in drinks like theRestraining Order, or the adventurous Mr. Hoy made with pineapple, vermouth, rye, and of course, celery bitters.


About the Author: Marcia Simmons is the co-author of DIY Cocktails: A Simple Guide to Creating Your Own Signature Drinks. She also shares cocktail recipes and tips on the DIY Cocktails blog and on Twitter @DIYCocktails.

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