Monday, August 08, 2011

Celery Julep

When you're a kid, it's hard to parse out what in life is universal, and what's particular to your specific situation (be it family, region or country). Growing up in suburban New York, I had no idea that Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year, wasn't a national school holiday. Or that getting bussed in to a theater to see productions of weird Swiss pantomime wasn't an annual rite of childhood. Or that some people had never even heard of Cel-Ray soda.

For the uninitiated, Cel-Ray is a celery-flavored soda. And it's much better than it sounds. It's got celery's snappy vegetal notes, but tamed into a sweet fizzy drink. Cel-Ray's traditional lot in life is to serve as a perfect foil to a fatty deli sandwich, where its bite cuts through like ginger ale. And like ginger ale, it's great in a whiskey drink.

This recipe, from the Lee Brothers, differs from Cel-Ray in some substantial ways (namely that it's much more delicate and fresh-tasting, and missing the high-fructose corn syrup). But it creates a deliciously balanced cocktail. Celery stalks are blitzed and strained, along with some celery seeds, and the resulting bright-green juice is just barely heated with a scoop of sugar to create a syrup. This leaves the celery still tasting bright and clean, so it can stand up perfectly to a bit of whiskey (they favor Bourbon, but I think it's great with whatever you've got). Lifted with lemon and lightened with seltzer, it turns into a great summer cocktail. The only downside is that you've got to drink it quick -- the celery syrup tastes snappy when fresh, but slightly bitter after a day or two. Fortunately, this is not hard.

Celery Julep

adapted, very slightly, from The Lee Bros. Simple Fresh Southern: Knockout Dishes with Down-Home Flavor
yields enough concentrate for ~5-6 drinks

4-5 large stalks celery, roughly chopped (plus additional whole stalks for garnish)
1/2 cup plus 1 Tbsp sugar
1/2 tsp celery seeds
hefty pinch salt
lemon juice

Put the celery, 1 Tbsp of the sugar, celery seed and salt in a food processor. Pulse until the mixture is reduced to a puree. Pass it through a fine-mesh strainer, pressing on and discarding the solids.

Place the strained celery juice in a saucepan, along with the 1/2 cup sugar. Heat gently until it just dissolves, then cool.

To assemble the juleps, shake together 2 ounces whiskey, 1 Tbsp lemon juice, and 2 Tbsp celery syrup with ice. Pour into a glass with ice, top off with seltzer, and garnish with a celery sprig. Adjust to taste.


  1. I was just thinking I hadn't seen a drink from you in awhile, and here I go! This sounds just crazy enough that I have to try it; not being Jewish or east-coast born, I have never heard of or tasted celery drinks. But, I like everything else of yours, so I'll give it a day in court... I'll let you know!

  2. You know I wouldn't go too long without a drink! And let me know what you think. It's an intriguing flavor -- like Cel-Ray itself, I wonder if you'd be able to call out the celery flavor if you didn't know. But I'm always on the hunt for the sweet-but-not-too-sweet cocktail...

  3. I cannot believe that you actually posted a foto of CelRay Soda...I grew up in S. Florida and we had it in our fridge. What childhood memories! P