Pre-prohibition cocktails and modern twists on classics

Gentian Dream

Gentian Dream


1oz Aperol

1oz Bonal

1oz Cynar

.5oz Calisaya

.5oz Salers

4 drops Celery Bitters

2 dashes Urban Moonshine Bitters

Add the Aperol, Bonal, Cynar, Calisaya, Salers, celery bitters and Urban Moonshine Bitters to a chilled mixing glass. Add ice and stir until well chilled. Strain into a chilled cocktail glass.
Layers upon layers, yet decidedly smooth if you aren’t paying attention. Gentian Dream sounds like it may only appeal to those into more obscure ingredients; however, somehow the combination becomes so much more approachable than any one ingredient on its own. Vegetal Grassy nose, hints of sugar and orange. Floral upfront, then rooty herbal notes come next, featuring gentiane, rhubarb and ginger, followed by a strong vegetal taste from the bonal, cynar and bitters. There is a slight undertone of burnt sugar that comes through from the mid palate on, while the finish is exceptionally light and smooth. Also surprising is how much less bitter this combination tastes than expected.

Gentian Dream 2



So this is my first attempt at Mixology Monday. To those folks new to Mixology Monday, it is a monthly cocktail “challenge” of sorts, where someone hosts and picks the theme. The challenge is then to design a cocktail based upon that theme. At the end, the host compiles all the entrants. This month’s theme comes from Rowen at Fogged in Lounge:

“Want to get more vegetables but you’re always eating on the run?… Well then, how about a vegetable cocktail? No, not that nice little glass of red stuff Grandma put at each place setting—we’re talking something with a kick in it. You can definitely start with the little glass of red stuff and expand it to a Red Snapper-style drink like a Bloody Mary. Or how about a cucumber-scented cooler like a Pimm’s Cup, or maybe a cocktail featuring a vegetable-based ingredient like Cardamaro or celery bitters? Maybe you’ve been wondering if you can get more mileage out of that juice extractor before consigning it to the garage sale. However you get them in that glass, be prepared for the most fun with vegetables ever.”

I actually had a little more trouble with this theme than I expected. At first, I was a little disheartened, as I had already recently posted a great cocktail that would fit these parameters: Lily’s Pad. This one featured cucumber, mint, elderflower liqueur, velvet falernum, lemon juice and citrus bitters (among other things). I had also recently posted my twist on an Archangel, Seraphim, also featuring cucumber as well as rhubarb laced Aperol and the cucumber infused Hendrick’s Gin. While maybe I could get away with using one of these recipes, I wanted to try to create something new.

Naturally, I again gravitated toward cucumber and mint, but having made two recent cocktails with such ingredients, I didn’t want to take the “easy” way out. Next came the experimentation, various vegetables, combinations, etc. Nothing seemed to really create anything worth putting on The Straight Up. Sure some were interesting (I may post one for fun), others were disgusting. I didn’t want to make a drink with vegetables that tasted nasty, just for the sake of creating a drink for Mixology Monday. It had to be something that I would want, dare I say crave in the future.

Finally, I took a step back and while looking through my bar, made a list of spirits, bitters, etc, that had some sort of ingredient in them that might fit the category of vegetable, bearing in mind the theme mentioned using a vegetable based spirit. I used vegetable a little loosely with herbal and rooty ingredients also allowed. One of my favorites, Cynar, came to mind, as well as Aperol.

I also have some newly acquired stuff I’ve been playing with: Salers, Calisaya and Bonal. I have had a notorious disdain for celery bitters, so wanted to challenge myself to use some in a cocktail. Finally, Urban Moonshine Bitters (original) is a great organic bitters made with dandelion and ginger.

Gentian Dream 3

To those unfamiliar with some of these, here is a quick description:

Cynar – an Artichoke based amaro, with other herbs and vegetables thrown in. Read more here.

Aperol – a light amaro, with hints of rhubarb, gentian and quinine. Read more here.

Salers – A gentian based French Apertif – this one has strong grassy notes. Very vegetal.

Calisaya – A quinine based mildly bitter and herbal orange liqueur that was used in the 1800s then became extinct. Only recently has it resurfaced in select markets.

Bonal – A vegetal gentian and quinine fortified wine, can be used in place of vermouth.

Celery bitters – As it sounds, celery flavored bitters, essential for a Fourth Regiment Cocktail, useful in a Bloody Mary.

Urban Moonshine Bitters – Organic bitters, made with roots, herbs and flowers, containing dandelion and ginger.

There were some other ingredients that got shot down, but I began playing with this combination, until I found the appropriate balance and flavor profile with the above recipe. I even managed to work the Celery bitters in (just a few drops as more overpowered it with celery for my tastes). The result is a surprisingly approachable and smooth vegetal drink that is just a little bitter (shock I know).

That being said if you take time to really taste this one, you will find layers of subtle complexity as described above. I know this uses some ingredients many folks won’t have, but aside from the pricier Calisaya, the ingredients are fairly inexpensive and worth trying.

I often use Bonal in place of vermouth, while Calisaya will appeal to fans of orange amari, such as Campari, Gran Classico, Amaro Nonino, etc. Alternatively, the less expensive Gran Classico would also work, but use a little less, as it is heavier and sweeter than Calisaya.

13 Responses to “Gentian Dream”

  1. Scott

    I am very intriged by this cocktail. I’ve never tried either Salers or Calisaya I do have both Averna and Nonino so I’ll see if halfing the amount works well. As for Salers, any reccomendations as a substitute?

    • The Straight Up

      Thanks for checking it out. It really turned out well if I do say so myself. As for the Salers, the only thing sort of close is Suze. It’s also a gentian based aperitif but is not near as gentian forward as Salers. It’s also more expensive than Salers.

      If you don’t have either, I can’t think of anything else that would be similar as they are sort of unique in flavor. Other spirits may have gentian in them but also contain many other ingredients that would make them taste different. I know unfortunately that this is one of the downsides of presenting a drink with more obscure ingredients. It just happened to turn out really well and fit a theme of gentian, vegetal and to a lesser extent quinine based ingredients.

      All that being said, I’m sure it would taste good without the Salers but would be less gentian and grassy flavored; and as you mentioned, substitute a little Nonino for the Calisaya.

      Btw your Okie Dokie Artichokie sounds really good as well!

      • Scott

        Thanks for the recommendations, I was wondering about Suze being a substitute for Salers so I’ll give that a try. Cheers.

  2. Calisaya | The Straight Up

    […] originals, featuring Rye, Fernet-Branca and Calisaya, called The Study. Another original called Gentian Dream is also delicious. For some of the classic Calisaya cocktails, check out the cocktail section of […]


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