The Basics History & Trends

The Story Behind the Seelbach Cocktail? Absolutely Fake.

Someone call Holden Caulfield because it turns out one of our favorite classics is a phony! That’s right—the Seelbach cocktail isn’t nearly as old as it claims to be.

The once-classic cocktail first rose to fame in the 1990s when bartender Adam Seger claimed to have discovered the recipe on an old menu from Louisville’s Seelbach Hotel. The “forgotten” libation was said to have predated the Prohibition and had at one time been the hotel’s signature drink. After trying it out, Seger put it on the hotel’s menu.

News of the historic drink spread, with its backstory leaving cocktail historians and aficionados in awe. Unfortunately, we’ve now learned that it’s all balderdash!

Twenty years later, Seger has finally admitted in The New York Times that he made up the whole story. The bartender confessed that he wanted to make a name for himself while promoting the bar. Seger even went as far to create a fake story of the signature drink’s creation, detailing a shaggy-dog story of a clumsy olden-days bartender accidentally spilling Champagne into a Manhattan.

Although it isn’t the first instance of a bartender telling tall tales, Seger was able to fool some of the industry’s most acclaimed cocktail historians. The drink even weaseled its way into Gary Regan’s New Classic Cocktails and Vintage Spirits and Forgotten Cocktails by Ted Haigh, a.k.a. Dr. Cocktail.

After Seger came clean about his fake story, Regan said he wasn’t too surprised. “I always suspected that Adam had created the drink, but I really, really loved it, his story was almost plausible, and I needed recipes for New Classic Cocktails,“says Regan.

Oh, well, time to re-file the Seelbach under Modern Classics! Thank goodness it’s still just as delicious as always, fake backstory or not.