Celery Basil Collins
Celery behaves in cocktails similarly to cucumber and sugar snap peas, only with more depth. Along with crisp, green freshness, it brings a distinct savory or, more specifically, umami note to the table that folds in seamlessly with the other flavors. More and that below.
The Tom Collins is the perfect vehicle for bringing celery’s attributes to life. It's lighter qualities are enlivened by the bubbles and the savory elements enhance the bontanicals in the gin, rendering a drink that’s at once satisfyingly refreshing and intriguingly complex. Adding basil lends a nice, herbaceous peppery note, but the drink works great without it too.
Because celery has such a high water content, muddling it straight into a drink doesn’t really work, they flavors are too subtle to register. The best approach to make a syrup with celery juice as the water component. I use 2 parts juice to 1 part sugar, making it a “weak” syrup. This way you can add more juice, and thus celery flavor, without over-sweetening the drink.
2 oz gin
¾ oz lemon juice
1¼ oz celery syrup
3-4 basil leaves
about 1½ oz chilled soda water
In a shaker, muddle the basil in celery syrup. Add remaining ingredients (except soda water) and fill with ice. Fill a collins glass with ice and add the soda water. Shake the cocktail for 8-10 seconds and strain into the glass. Garnish as desired (perhaps a leafy stalk of celery) or not at all.
There are two methods for making this syrup. A juicer is faster and more precise, but if you don’t have one, a blender works too.
With a Juice Extractor
1 cup celery juice - about 6-7 stalks
½ cup sugar
Run the celery stalks through the juicer and strain, you’ll have about 1 cup of juice. Add ½ cup of sugar for every cup of juice. Briskly stir until sugar is dissolved, this will take a couple minutes. Do not put over heat or you'll risk losing some of those fresh green flavors. Refrigerate.
With a Blender
6 celery stalks
½ cup sugar
Finely slice the celery and place in the blender. Add the sugar. Blend for 1-2 minutes, or until celery is liquefied. If some sugar is still undissolved, let the mixture sit for a few minutes until it is. Strain out the solids, which will take a few minutes. Refrigerate.
If you happen to post a shot of a Celery Basil
Collins on Instagram, please consider tagging
Umami is of the 5 basic tastes, the others being sweet, sour, bitter and salty. It is detected by the specific taste receptors that respond to glutamate, which we typically encounter in the form of monosodium glutamate, aka MSG. MSG is usually added to foods to intensify their savoriness and is a classic, and somewhat infamous, ingredient in Asian cuisines. Case in point, in Japanese umami literally means “deliciousness”.
Umami is often broadly described as savory, meaty or brothy, but it is exhibited in a wide range of foods including in shellfish, cheese, soy sauce, and certain vegetables including tomatoes, mushrooms and, yes, celery.
In cocktails, umami is probably the most unlikely to show up of the 5 tastes, but when properly integrated, it is super cool. This is because we experience umami at a distinct point over the course of tasting something. If flavor were a 5 act play, umami comes in somewhere during acts 3 and 4.
Most cocktail flavors are derived from aroma, which of course is what the majority of all flavors are based on, aromatic suggestions that our nose gives to our brain. These aromatics are at the forefront of a drink, or what I call top notes. The foundation for them is sweetness, which all cocktails contain, it is the ultimate flavor conductor. The next most common taste is sour, followed by bitterness, which are experienced towards the end of a drink on the finish. I often use bitterness to create additional depth, or as I like to say, another dimension of flavor. Saltiness is less common, unless it’s a rim on a Margarita, in which case it is experienced as a forward taste, intermingled with the top notes.
Umami manages to wedge itself in between all of these elements. The cocktail above, is a perfect example. You taste the bright aromatics up front, which are followed by a swell of savoriness that continues on through the crisp, refreshing finish.
While its uses may be narrow, umami it a tool for cocktails to another level of flavor complexity. Tomato water is great, and I’ve had some cool mushroom and meat-infused drinks, the latter for which you need fat-washing. I encourage you to get as creative as possible, as long as you keep in mind that interesting doesn’t always equal delicious. But don’t let that stop you from trying something that sounds weird. Failure is part of the process, and sometimes you hit on something awesome.