Savory Saffron Spirit Makes Cocktails Splendid

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Orange is the new hack with this less sweet entry from Chicago’s Apologue Liqueurs

All photos courtesy Apologue Liqueurs

When thinking about cocktail modifiers, sweet flavors typically come to mind. However, one brand is making a name for itself with a small line of savory liqueurs that’s filling a serious gap in the market. 

Apologue Liqueurs launched around this time last year with a mission to make the liqueur aisle a less scary place. While it’s been a great decade for heritage brands to make a name for themselves across most spirit categories, Apologue co-founders Jordan Tepper and Robby Haynes (the latter formerly worked at The Violet Hour and collaborated with Letherbee Distillers) found that many liqueurs were still laden with artificial colors and flavors. So they took matters into their own hands by launching Apologue with a mission to showcase new flavors instead of trying to recreate old recipes.


The brand launched with three flavors, Persimmon, Aronia Berry and a savory Celery Root. As Haynes explains, the inspiration for the Celery Root expression came when he realized there was nothing else like it on the market. “While we were readying Apologue for launch, I was working part-time at a great neighborhood bar here in Chicago called the Charleston,” he says. “I was opening one Friday afternoon, and a person came in, sat down and asked for a cocktail that was ‘refreshing, savory and herbaceous.’ I turned around and looked at the bottles behind me and had one of those ‘a-ha’ moments. I immediately started sketching out recipes.”

Unless the craving comes for a Dirty Martini or Bloody Mary, there really aren’t a ton of savory cocktails from which to choose. Apologue’s Celery Root adds a more refreshing option, as it can simply be mixed with soda to let it’s earthy, vegetal notes shine. Following the success of this expression during the past year, Haynes and Tepper decided to release another savory bottling—Saffron. And like many good ideas, it wasn’t planned from the beginning, but rather inspired by the ingredient itself. 

“Jordan mentioned that he had come across some incredible saffron,” Haynes says. “I got my hands on a few grams and loved its exotic florality and deep red color. I made some tea with it.  It was fantastic and I was inspired.”

Apologue Saffron has a bright yellow hue and is bursting with flavor from the mix of fragrant spices that go into the spirit. “I brought in Ziyad Asrar [another Apologue partner] on this one,” Haynes says. “His father is from Pakistan, and Z spent his childhood eating cuisine from the region.” Haynes worked with Asrar to find a blend of spices and citrus that would complement the bold, aromatic saffron. “We came up with a blend of green cardamom, coriander seeds, lemongrass, turmeric, curry leaves, golden raisins and orange peel that really pops on the palate and is great neat, on the rocks, in a cocktail or as a spritz,” Haynes adds.

The liqueur has a deep, earthy nose, and saffron and turmeric come through immediately. While the initial flavor has sweet notes from organic cane sugar, raisins and green cardamom, the taste becomes less sweet upon a second sip when the saffron, coriander, black cumin and orange peel really start to flourish. The finish is dry with the warming flavor of turmeric. 

Apologue is committed to using natural, non-GMO ingredients. For the Saffron expression, they wanted to take their commitment to sourcing high-quality components one step further by working with Rumi Spice. “Rumi Spice has a reputation for sourcing the highest quality saffron in the world,” Haynes says. “We met with their team, and we clicked. They are a fellow Chicago-based benefit corporation started by veterans.” 

Rumi Spice is also one of Afghanistan’s largest private employers of women (almost 2,000), and they are striving to provide an alternative to opium production in the country’s Herat region. Eighty percent of the Afghan population is dependent upon the rural agricultural economy. In Rumi Spice’s second year, they saw output from their existing partners double and triple, and a number of new farmers have asked to join the network. 

While it’s pretty easy to mix a cocktail after reaching for a fruity or nutty liqueur, Apologue wants you to know that working with savory versions is just as simple. Whether a strong and stirred libation is preferred or something spritzy, their Saffron Liqueur works in just about every type of drink. “On the sipping side, I’ve had some profound Saffron gin stirred cocktails—Saffron Martini, Saffron Martinez, Saffron Gin Old Fashioned,” Haynes says. “On the refreshing end of things, Saffron works really well with all spirits and plays particularly well with teas, honey, ginger beer and mint. For some easy-to-elevate classics that can be made at home, I like the Saffron Mule and Saffron Sidecar.”

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 Saffron Sidecar

.75 oz. Apologue Saffron Liqueur

2 oz. cognac

.5 oz. lemon juice

.25 oz simple syrup

1 dash orange bitters

Orange twist, for garnish

Add all liquid ingredients to a shaker tin with ice. Shake and strain into a chilled coupe glass. Garnish with an orange twist.