At the tail end of May, Pipeworks Brewing Co. unleashed a new gose upon the world. As one might expect, it’s tart and faintly saline from a sprinkle of sea salt. Less expected is the fact that the $ellray $our owes both its name and its subtly vegetal flavor to a double-punch of celery juice and celery seeds.
“Ok ok ok...we know this SOUNDS weird, but it TASTES delicious. This beer is tart, sour and a bit salty & savory. Pretty sure celery is the new pastry,” the brewery tweeted out.
Oddly enough, it’s not as unusual as it might seem. Way Beer released its CeleryBration gose three years ago and Right Brain Brewery released a Leipzig-style Who Gose There Celery Juniper last year, right around the time when celery juice was having a bit of a moment as a health fad. The trend kicked off when Alejandro Junger, a man who calls himself the Medical Medium and claims to have heard a “Spirit” that warns him of other peoples’ medical ailments since he was a child, announced that celery juice could make you lose weight, clear your gout, and cure whatever the hell else ails you. Assorted Kardashians and Jenners jumped on the bandwagon, spurred on by hordes of Goop's acolytes heralding it as a "miraculous superfood."
Overinflated health claims for celery beverages are nothing new. Cel-Ray, a cult-favorite soda that first appeared in New York in 1868, was long touted as a tonic for soothing stomachs. There’s no actual medical science to back up these claims, of course, but that hasn’t stopped the lightly flavored water from seeping into the general culinary ecosystem.
The breweries in question may not care much about celery juice's panacea-like qualities. Instead, they view it as another addition to an ever-growing arsenal of savory botanical ingredients. And while once upon a time, concoctions like Shorts Brewing’s Bloody Beer, with tomatoes, horseradish and celery seeds, might have seemed wonky, in an age of ramen-flavored brews, some of these vegetal concoctions seem downright normal—not to mention surprisingly delicious.
We’re having a whole lot of fun with food. If you can eat it, we can brew it. The audience is demanding all these crazy flavors.”
“We’re having a whole lot of fun with food. If you can eat it, we can brew it,” says Russell Springsteen, owner of Right Hand Brewery. “Now the sour craze is on, so we’re turning some of these beers that were light ales into sours and they’re doing exceedingly well. People are tearing them up. The audience is demanding all these crazy flavors.”
That includes both the celery-spiked gose, which was a smash hit, and one of their current top sellers, Cool Hand Cuke, which is made with cucumbers and basil leaves. Springsteen purées the former in his Cuisinart and bruises the latter to release its aromatic oils.
Right Hand Brewery has never shied away from more experimental beers. Some of Springsteen’s previous creations include a fruit beer made with whole cherry pies and an umami-loaded porter brewed with a smoked pig's head and bones. Yet he considers working with fresh produce to be one of the greatest challenges. He estimates he goes through at least three or four seven-barrel batches before he’s satisfied with one of his more experimental creations.
“Ever bought an absolutely beautiful, red strawberry that had absolutely no flavor to it? And you’re like, how the heck did that happen? So we have to sample everything,” he says. “Sometimes we use frozen fruit, because we need that to burst cellular walls and release flavors. For vegetables, you want them fresh. You don’t want them processed.”
One of his most avant-garde numbers is a seasonal asparagus beer released in honor of an annual festival.
“It came about because they wanted a beer vendor 10 years ago and they said that all the food vendors were using asparagus. And I was like, ‘I could make a beer!’” Springsteen says with a laugh. Although the idea was initially met with skepticism and more than a few questions about its, erm, odiferous side-effects, the beer has proven popular enough to survive the test of time. “We roast the asparagus on a gas grill to get a little bit of a char, then add it to the second day of fermentation as if it were a dry-hop.”
When asked if he ever gets tired of zesting crates of citrus, grilling vegetables, and dumping out trial batches that don’t quite live up to his farmers’ market-fueled aspirations, Springsteen insists he wouldn’t have it any other way. Unlike Cel-Ray, which contained no actual celery juice, he’s not interested in shortcuts.
“We refuse to use extracts. If it didn’t come from the Earth, it’s not going in the tank,” he says. “We’re not making soda pop. We’re making beer.”