When was the last time you tried a spirit made with aronia berries? How about persimmons, or celery root? Enter Apologue, a homegrown brand creating liqueurs that incorporate unique, regional ingredients. They’ll help take cocktails to a new level of complexity.
Co-founder Robby Haynes had spent many years bartending (including time at The Violet Hour and the now-shuttered Analogue), and was frustrated with the available liqueur options. “People these days are so conscious of the things they’re eating and drinking, it seems a little out of step that we would keep using products with artificial coloring and artificial ingredients," he says.
After about two years of testing and retesting recipes, Haynes and his partners Jordan Tepper and Ziyad Asrar launched Apologue with three flavors. All their primary ingredients are native to the Midwest and locally sourced, and the spirits are distilled in Thornton, Illinois. Each liqueur is also designed to serve a different purpose. Celery root, for example, is “herbaceous and interesting,” says Haynes, and great for mixing with tonic, adding to a Bloody Mary, or sipping with seafood. Persimmon is a bittersweet twist on amaro and works well in a Negroni, while the aronia berry liqueur is bright and tart with floral overtones.
The spirits are available at Binny’s ($35) for your home consumption, but bartenders citywide have already incorporated them into their drinks. At Ludlow Liquors (2959 N. California Ave., Avondale), you can try a blue celery root martini; at St. Lou’s Assembly (664 W. Lake St., West Loop), an aronia berry el Diablo; and at The Loyalist (177 N. Ada St., West Loop), a cocktail that Haynes calls “proto-tiki”—the Silk Road, made with Apologue’s persimmon concoction.
The team also plans to partner with nonprofits and local food initiatives, as part of its mission to be socially engaged—to which the brand's name nods. An apologue is a moral fable, “like the Tortoise and the Hare—a right-and-wrong thing where an animal is the main protagonist,” Haynes says.
Apologue is now toying with a couple of other flavors, which Haynes says may draw inspiration from beyond the Midwest. “I love the creative process,” he says. “It’s about constantly pushing for this perfect balance.”