If you’re like me, you may’ve wondered, perched on your stool at a particularly well-equipped cocktail joint, what exactly lurks inside those unmarked bottles and beakers, the mysterious liquids from which your bartender is confidently mixing into your drink. And after having tried said drink—probably delicious—you may’ve also wondered: where can I buy that stuff for myself?
In the current age of cocktailing chemistry, it’s not uncommon for bars to craft and batch their own syrups, bitters, liqueurs and the like. It is, however, quite rare that you’d be able to purchase those creations and use them in your own drinks. Which is just really, really unfair.
That all changes, or kind of changes, with Apologue Liqueurs, a new line of Midwestern liqueurs made from locally sourced, all-natural ingredients with no artificial anything. Right now, their wares are only available on-premise at various Chicago bars and restaurants, like the James Beard Award-winning Violet Hour, at local Chicago liquor stores, including Binny’s and Foxtrot, and in New York and Los Angeles via LibDib.
The project is the brainchild of Chicagoans Jordan Tepper, Robby Haynes and Ziyad Asrar; the latter two worked together at the excellent, if relatively short-lived Logan Square cocktail bar, Analogue, which Haynes co-founded.
“I'm a big believer in thoughtful consumption when it comes to food, wine and spirits,” Haynes told me. “You are what you eat and what you drink. We wanted to extend that same progressive mindset to liqueurs and elevate the category.”
Currently, three different liqueurs are available: the Persimmon, their spin on an aperitivo; the Aronia, based around those tart Midwestern chokeberries; and the Celery Root, a more savory flavor with everything from tarragon, to fennel, to dill, that Haynes said was a “gift from the universe.”
“I was deep in the creative process when someone asked me to cover a bartending shift,” he recalled. “I opened the bar and the first person that walked in sat down and asked for something refreshing, savory and intriguing. I had a ‘moment.’ I’m not sure what I made them but by the time they were finished drinking it, I had sketched out the basic build for our Celery Root liqueur. That night I found a 24-hour grocery store, bought a pound of celery root and started the first batch in my kitchen.”
As for how best to drink this stuff, Haynes suggests trying each over ice first, in order to tease out all the flavors. But they’re also great for riffing on classic cocktails, several recipes of which—like the Persimmon Negroni, the Celery Root Bloody Mary and the Aronia Fashioned—are listed on their website. If you’re looking for something especially summer-forward, Haynes recommends a simple Aronia Sangria—one part Aronia to three parts sparkling rosé, ideally garnished with fresh strawberries and a lemon wheels.
Though they’re a few years away from being available nationwide, they’ve got a couple of new liqueurs in the works, the first of which is a collaboration that will feature another unique regional ingredient. You can expect that to drop sometime this fall, as well as home bar-friendly 200ml bottles of the original three.
As far as Haynes knows, theirs are the only liqueurs of their kind currently on the market. But there are, of course, other products like it—whether from Fernet Francisco or Tuthilltown Spirits, in New York—and there are bound to be more in the future.
“There are certainly a handful of producers out there fighting the good fight, making great products and doing it in a thoughtful way. Hopefully more to come,” Haynes said. “There's a movement happening and we are stoked to be a part of it.”