As a kid growing up in south Florida surrounded by Jewish delis, my older brother introduced me early on to Dr. Brown’s sodas, including the unique “Cel-Ray” soda and I’ve enjoyed it since. This soda has been a staple in Jewish delicatessens for almost a hundred years, and was first made in 1868.
That said, some soda drinkers haven’t heard of it let alone tried it. Although other flavors of Dr. Brown’s are often found at grocery stores, like the Cream Soda and Black Cherry, the Cel-Ray remains a little more elusive. But like most things nowadays, you can find it on Amazon if you’re curious.
However, I’m here today to share my own recipe which, while tasting quite similar to the classic, in my opinion is even better. I took a couple steps that deepened the flavor profile (and likely enhanced the fizz level… I’ll explain below!).
The main flavor of this drink comes from celery seeds, not any actual celery, and adding anything else is optional. This recipe includes a hint of caraway, clove, and allspice, with some dry dill and parsley stems stripped clean and added to the bottle, but all of that is optional.
For one flip-top bottle (33.75 oz.), you will need:
- 4 cups filtered or distilled water
- 1/2 cup sugar
- 3 tsp celery seeds
- Pinch of caraway seeds
- 2 cloves
- 3-4 allspice berries
- 1/4 cup ginger bug starter (strained liquid)
- Optional: dried stems of dill and parsley (as seen in the photos)
1.) Begin heating the saucepan on medium-low, then add 2 tsp of the celery seed, pushing them around with the spoon for about 30 seconds. This is to mildly roast the seeds to increase the depth of flavor.
2.) Then add the water, sugar, remaining 1 tsp of celery seed, along with the caraway, cloves, and allspice. Increase heat to high and stir until the sugar is completely dissolved. Allow 20-30 more seconds to cook then remove from heat. (Steeping the seeds for too long will result in a bitter wort.)
3.) Promptly strain the liquid (wort) from the seeds, cover, and allow to cool to room temperature.
4.) Once the wort has cooled, add the 1/4 cup of strained ginger starter to the bottle using the funnel. (If you have dried stems of dill, parsley or other members of the Apiaceae family, you may add a few as well. Remove any seeds or loose pieces first. Besides adding more depth of flavor, the stems’ natural yeasts will further invigorate the fermentation; avoid too much though as it can become bitter.)
5.) Using the bottling funnel along with the mesh strainer to further strain the wort, add the wort to the bottle and seal it. Allow approximately 3 days at room temperature and then refrigerate overnight. Consume at any time after.
Notes: After making this several times now, something that has happened a few times to my bottles is the development of (what I believe is) a pediococcus colony of bacteria. It will look like a cloudy substance that forms and eventually sinks to the bottom of the bottle. Rest assured if it happens to you, it is completely harmless and, in my experience, has not been detectable (flavor or texture-wise) whatsoever. It’s just a type of healthy lactic-acid producing bacteria.