Apologue: The Chicago-Sourced, All-Natural Liqueurs You Should Be Drinking

Like Campari and Aperol? You’ll like this better.

InsideHook, by Meredith Heil

“I really love making cocktails because it’s like the whole creative process packed into just a couple of minutes,” says Apologue Liqueurs co-founder Robby Haynes. “Then you put it in a glass and you can taste it. People love it.”

When it comes to cocktails, Haynes’s talents are obvious. A former Bar Manager at James Beard Award-winning Wicker Park institution The Violet Hour, the industry vet’s accomplished resume lists stints at a bevy of Chicago mainstays, including his own now-shuttered Analogue in Logan Square. It only makes sense that the inspiration for this latest boozy venture came from behind the sticks.

“Something I noticed was missing behind the bar were all-natural liqueurs,” Haynes says. “So many use artificial flavors, ingredients and extracts. We thought we could make something that was not only delicious, fun to use in cocktails and complex, but also made with fresh fruit, roots, herbs and barks, approaching it with more traditional production methods and a more progressive mindset.”

Haynes teamed up with fellow industry vet Jordan Tepper to launch Apologue Spirited Liqueurs in 2018. From the beginning, the duo was committed to working with farmers to source the bulk of their ingredients regionally, a conviction that not only minimized their company’s carbon footprint, but also led them to some truly unconventional flavors.

“We noticed that there were a lot of underappreciated ingredients right here in the Midwest, things like aronia berry, persimmon, celery root, so we started tinkering with those,” explains Haynes, delving into the story behind Apologue’s debut lineup. “The persimmon I thought would work well in an aperitivo style liqueur, like Aperol or Campari. And then the aronia berry, it just bursts with these bright citrus notes and big, punchy flavors. As soon as we tasted that, I was like, ‘Cool, we’ll do a berry liqueur and complement it with some floral elements like lavender and rose hips.’”

Apologue’s curiously vegetal celery root liqueur took shape during one of Haynes’s shifts at the Charleston, a beloved neighborhood joint in Bucktown. “A woman came in and asked for something herbaceous and refreshing and it kind of got the gears churning,” he recalls. “I was like, ‘Man, there aren’t really a lot of herbaceous, savory and refreshing liqueurs.’ It seemed like there was an opportunity there, a missing bottle on the back bar. I had had some celery root in a dish somewhere, maybe at [famed Logan Square farm-to-table restaurant] Lula Cafe, and thought we could do something with it. We ended up pairing it with earthy dill, fennel and anise to brighten it up.”

The team, which has expanded to include fellow cocktailers Erica Helms, Ziyad Asrar and Alexandra Wright, currently harvests their celery root at Growing Solutions Farm, a Near West Side project run and staffed by the nonprofit Urban Autism Solutions. Their persimmons hail from Indiana’s Twin Tykes and the antioxidant-rich aronia berries are grown at Coldbrook Farm in Crete, Illinois. Made by bar professionals for bar professionals using ethically and regionally sourced, Non-GMO Project Verified materials, Apologue embodies the farm-to-table ethos every step of the way. And with a presence at around 100 Chicagoland bars and counting, the community appears to be down for the cause.

“The response has been amazing,” Haynes says appreciatively. “Bartenders are always looking for new ingredients to play with, and they want to feel good about where those ingredients come from, how they’re being made and who’s making them. It makes sense — if bars and restaurants are moving toward more thoughtful sourcing for their food menu, that should be reflected in a cocktail program, too.”

Want to get in on this feel-good/taste-good action? Pick up a bottle and try your hand at one of these crafty Apologue cocktails … or leave it up to the pros at one of the stellar bars that created them.

Handbook for the Recently Deceased by Erica Helms, available at Lula Cafe

  • .75 ounce Apologue Celery Root
  • .75 ounce Vikre Akvavit
  • .75 ounce lemon juice
  • 1 ounce Cocchi Americano
  • Letherbee Absinthe rinse
  • Radish slice for garnish

Fill a coupe or Nick and Nora glass with ice and pour in about a half ounce of absinthe. Swirl to coat and set aside. Add remaining ingredients to a cocktail shaker over fresh ice and shake vigorously. Swirl your glass once more and dump the ice and absinthe mixture. Strain cocktail into the empty absinthe-rinsed glass and garnish with a thin slice of radish.

Persimmon Sangria, available at Daisies

  • .75 ounce Apologue Persimmon
  • 1.5 ounces red wine
  • .5 ounce lemon juice
  • .5 ounce simple Syrup
  • 4-5 ounces cherry kombucha
  • Orange peel and brandied cherries for garnish

Add persimmon liqueur, red wine, lemon juice and simple syrup to a mixing glass over ice and stir until chilled and well combined. Strain into a tall glass over fresh ice and top with kombucha. Spear orange peel and brandied cherries with a cocktail pick, balance atop the glass and serve.

Aronia Cosmo, available at Good Measure

  • 1.5 ounces vodka
  • .5 ounce lime juice
  • .5 ounce Apologue Aronia
  • .25 ounce Mandarine Napoleon
  • .25 ounce simple syrup
  • Orange peel for garnish

Add all ingredients to a cocktail shaker over ice and shake vigorously. Strain into a chilled cocktail glass, top with orange peel and enjoy.