The Story of the Seelbach

All the best cocktails have a long and fascinating history behind them, and the Seelbach cocktail is no exception. A delicious combination of bourbon, Cointreau, Champagne, Angostura bitters and Peychaud’s bitters, this beverage has been traced back to the age of Prohibition, when it was the signature drink of the Seelbach Hotel. Or so we have been led to believe…
Bartender Adam Seger has been credited with bringing the drink back to cocktail lists all over the world after claiming to have found an old recipe from the famous hotel in Louisville. He sold the story that a newly married couple had stayed at the hotel and came to sit at the bar one evening. They ordered a Manhattan cocktail and a glass of Champagne, but the bartender had clumsily muddled the drinks, and had to put them to one side and start the order again. Afterwards, the accidental concoction had tasted quite nice, and soon became the hotel’s most requested cocktail.

The Seelbach went on to appear in numerous cocktail compilations, including New Classic Cocktails (1997) by Gaz Regan and Mardee Haidin Regan, and Vintage Spirits and Forgotten Cocktails (2009) by Ted Haigh. These influential books went on to repeat the story of a drink created in 1912, and so cemented the credibility of the story.

While the origins of many cocktails can be difficult to prove, and many can have more than one story connected to them, the Seelbach has always been a drink where the history has never been questioned. And that is why, for the past twenty years, Seger has been able to fool the entire cocktail industry into believing a story that has been completely fabricated.

The truth is, that the Seelbach cocktail was created by Seger himself when he first started bartending and was intent on making a name for himself in the industry. He was disappointed that a hotel as prolific as the Seelbach did not have a signature cocktail on the menu. He had been able to uncover old menus from the hotel, and they did indeed date back to the early 1900s, but not one of them had provided Seger with a cocktail worthy of bearing the Seelbach name. So, he made one up and gave it an interesting back story, fully expecting that he would be challenged to provide some proof of his tall tale. However, nobody ever asked him to produce the original recipe, and so his lie became accepted as a truth. Despite leaving the hotel back in 2001, it is only now that he has confessed the real story behind the popular “classic” drink.

Few have been phased by the revelation, and the Seelbach will continue to represent the hotel for years to come. If anything, this latest twist in the cocktail story has made it all the more fascinating – who can resist a tale that combines romance and clumsiness with a little bit of trickery and luck?

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