The Seelbach: a pre-Prohibition cocktail scam
It’s a pretty obscure cocktail, but the Seelbach is a classic nonetheless. Or is it?
According to The New York Times and reporter Robert Simonson, the drink, invented by bartender Adam Seger, and named after the Seelbach Hotel (a century-old hotel in Louisville that is briefly mentioned in The Great Gatsby) is a complete sham.
The cocktail’s origin story goes that in 1995 Seger discovered a recipe for a pre-Prohibition cocktail that had once been the signature drink of the hotel.
It went on the menu, and before long it was picked up by various media outlets and lauded as a classic – making it into New Classic Cocktails as well as Vintage Spirits and Forgotten Cocktails by Dr Cocktail.
Seger admitted to Simonson that the whole thing – including the elaborate backstory was a sham to promote the venue, and himself.
“I had no previous accolades in the bar world. I knew I could make a great drink. I wanted it to be this promotion for the hotel, and I felt the hotel needed a signature cocktail. How could you have a place that F. Scott Fitzgerald hung out in that doesn’t have a damn cocktail?” he told The New York Times.
The elaborate story he invented went along the lines of: a couple from New Orleans was honeymooning at the hotel in 1912, when the man ordered a Manhattan at the bar, and the woman a Champagne cocktail. The clumsy bartender spilled the bubbly into the Manhattan, then after remaking the drinks as ordered, tasted his mistake and decided it was worth making again.
Boom. Pre-Prohibition classic made.
According to the article, the hotel plans to keep making the drink, and the recipe is below if you want to try it…
The Non-Historic Seelbach Cocktail
GLASS: Champagne flute.
30ml Bourbon, preferably Old Forester
15ml Triple sec
7 dashes Angostura bitters
7 dashes Peychaud’s bitters
150ml sparkling wine, chilled
METHOD: Stir down the Bourbon, triple sec and bitters. Strain into a glass. Top with the sparkling wine. Rub orange twist around the rim of the glass, then position on the side of the flute.
GARNISH: Orange twist.
Image care of The New York Times.