© Carey Jones

More and more cocktail fans are gravitating toward the bitter — the popularity of Campari, Cynar, and the like have exploded over the last few years. But gentian liqueurs operate on a whole different level. They’re made from the gentian root, which is just about as bitter as it gets. But use them right and they’re perfect in cocktails. 

Salers is the oldest such liqueur out there — produced in France since 1885 — and one of the best. Made from gentian root that’s steeped in neutral spirit to extract flavor and then distilled with other botanicals, before aging in French oak. The result has sweetness and body from a bit of added sugar and herbal-bitter flavors from all the botanicals, tempered just a bit by oak aging. 

Try it out as an aperitif, pouring a good measure over ice with a big squeeze of lemon. Like what you taste? Give it a try in these three original cocktails. 

Easy: Salers and Tonic

When we encounter something complex, herbal, and bitter, we know just what to pair it with: tonic. The tonic water balances the bitterness, and since Salers is just 16% alcohol, you can put back three of these before dinner without getting blurry. 

Instructions: In a tall glass with ice, combine 1 1/2 ounces of Salers and 4 ounces of tonic. Stir briefly and garnish with a lime wedge squeezed into the glass. 

Intermediate: Salers Manhattan

A bit rich and with just enough sweetness to balance its bitter complexity, Salers can match nicely with rye in this Manhattan-style stirred cocktail, with a bit of sweet vermouth to bring it all together. 

Instructions: In a mixing glass with ice, stir together 2 ounces of Old Overholt rye, 3/4 ounce Salers, and 1/4 ounce of sweet vermouth. Stir until very well-chilled. Strain into a chilled cocktail glass. Squeeze a lemon peel over the glass to release its citrus oils, and add as a garnish. 

Advanced: Salers & Celery

Along with its distinctive bitterness, Salers has a kind of vegetal character, so it’s a great match for celery. Gin slides right in with those herbal-botanical flavors; top it with celery soda and you’ve got a dry, refreshing tall sipper. 

Instructions: In a cocktail shaker with ice, combine 1 ounce of gin, 1 ounce of Salers, 3/4 ounce lemon juice, and 1/2 ounce simple syrup. Shake until well-chilled, then strain into a tall glass with fresh ice. Top with two ounces of Dr. Brown’s Cel-Ray soda. Garnish with a celery stick.