By Sarah Freeman
A New Orleans staple travels north to shake up Chicago drinks
It's your average Saturday night at the cocktail lounge, but while perusing the menu an unfamiliar ingredient catches your eye: Chicory. The plant known for its bright-blue flowers is commonly found in New Orleans where it gets combined with coffee —think a hot cup of chicory and coffee au lait with a side of beignets from Café Du Monde. Here in Chicago, bartenders are turning to the root of the plant to bring bitterness and earthy qualities to drinks.
"In Europe, people were drinking chicory root as a medicine. In America, during the Civil War, soldiers would drink it as a coffee substitute," explains Julia Momose, head bartender at GreenRiver. "Today, you can purchase roasted chicory root from spice houses and other specialty stores." Momose's Doctor Who and the Jack Knife, both served at GreenRiver's Annex, utilize the plant. The latter combines Japanese whisky with Oloroso sherry, Cocchi Rosa, Cubeb pepper, chicory, and rose. She sous vides the Cocchi Rosa with roasted and ground chicory root as well as toasted Cubeb peppers to add deep and bitter notes to the vermouth: "The chicory root is the much needed dark, bitter, rich component to the cocktail that balances the softer floral notes."
At The Dawson, head bartender Harrison Ginsberg found inspiration with chicory's roots as a bitter ingredient, essentially endive or radicchio, that pairs well with apples. His French Market uses a cider reduction that is enforced with madeira and green chartreuse to keep the cocktail complex while still having a hot cider feel, he says. Ginsberg combines that concoction with chicory-infused George Dickel 8 and Bacardi 8.
For those looking for a more traditional chicory experience, have it in a coffee cocktail. At Presidio, cold brew Sparrow Coffee is combined with chicory and coffee bean-infused vodka to make the Winter on the Equator. Bartender Sam Lyden adds rum, sweetened condensed milk, and Bittercube Blackstrap Bitters to the drink before shaking and double straining it into a glass that looks like a retro milk jug. The drink is garnished with cayenne: "I like it," he says. "It looks like a milkshake and feels not overly sweet from the spice in the cayenne."
Channeling its origins as an ingredient in hot beverages, Lee Zaremba offers a take on the hot toddy at Billy Sunday using chicory tincture. The bitter and smoky concoction balances sweet and acidic cranberry, as well as savory stool that also appears in the cocktail. "It's a tremendous component for adding texture and flavor, or bitterness to cocktails," he says. "As the collective palate for bitter agents in drinks becomes more normalized, we will see more and more of it."
Below, find 10 other bars channeling the power of chicory in their cocktails.
Blind Pig at Bordel: Aged mezcal, bourbon, coffee and chicory-infused vermouth, bitters, and smoked cherry
So Fresh & So Green at Cochon Volant: Tromba Blanco tequila, chicory, cucumber, celery bitters, hellfire shrub and herbs
Cà Phê Đá Vitae at The Duck Inn: North Shore Aquavit, Firelit, sweetened condensed milk, Café du Monde honey syrup
Chicory Iced Coffee at Heaven on Seven: Chicory iced coffee, condensed milk, and coffee liqueur, topped with root beer-infused whipped cream
The Sweet Lowdown at The Kitchen: WL Weller bourbon, St. George NOLA coffee liqueur, CH amaro, cherry bark vanilla bitters, and Lagavulin rinse
Strong Joe at Sepia: Cold brew chicory coffee, Old Granddad bonded bourbon, salted caramel syrup, Meletti amaro, Angostura bitters, and half & half
Leatherneck at South Water Kitchen: Maker's Mark bourbon, Four Roses yellow label bourbon, spiced honey & brown sugar syrup, Fever Tree ginger beer, house-smoked apple chicory bitters, lemon wheel, and grated cinnamon garnish
What're You Brambling About? at Southport & Irving: Bourbon, blackberry jam, lemon juice, and chicory syrup
Dale Wins at Spiaggia: Wansas blanco tequila, chicory syrup, orange bitters, St. George NOLA coffee liqueur rinse
Danish Coffee at The Winchester: St. George NOLA coffee liqueur, Genepy, cold brew coffee, heavy cream float, and nutmeg garnish