Chris Ronis of Manhattan's Northern Spy says his Celery Tonic started as a variation on a classic highball. "One of my favorite off the shelf cocktail mixers (and secret weapons)," he says, "is Dr. Brown's Cel-Ray celery soda. I make a gin and tonic without the tonic: gin, Cocchi Americano, and Cel-Ray."
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But soon he started going direct to the vegetable: "I discovered that using fresh celery juice and lemon keeps the sweetness down and plays up the savory notes of the celery, which has a natural salinity giving it a thirst quenching and restorative quality." He says it's "perfect for drinking in large amounts, say, from a pitcher." Since Northern Spy doesn't serve gin, they make a lower-alcohol version without it, "using Cocchi Americano for bitter notes and Dolin dry vermouth for the touch of herbal sweetness."
We tried our hand at the Celery Tonic, and Ronis is right. You're going to want to make this one by the pitcher. The cocktail is light, refreshing, bitter, and just a little tart; it goes down very easily. The celery is most pronounced, with a vegetal sweatiness that plays nicely against the herbal vermouth and Cocchi Americano. (You could substitute Lillet Blanc, but your drink won't have quite the same herbal complexity and bitter bite.)
Celery Tonic makes a great alternative to a Bloody Mary, especially with brunch on a Sunday afternoon. It's slightly salty, but not quite savory, and won't sit so heavily in your stomach. You'll likely find yourself going back for seconds, and thirds, as your glass empties more quickly than you planned.