Adam Seger

Mixologist

Chicago

Adam Seger has a little bit of everything mixed into his career — much like a well-concocted cocktail. He is a Certified Culinary Professional, an advanced sommelier and a wine and spirits judge for the Beverage Tasting Institute, but after spending time in some of the most renowned restaurants, like The French Laundry and Tru (both in the kitchen and front of house), Seger found his true passion: mixology. The Chicagoan has created a few spirit companies — Hum Botanical Spirits, Bar Keep Swedish Herb Bitters and Truffle Amere by Rare Botanical Bitters Company — and acts as sommelier and mixologist for iPic Entertainment, a luxury movie-theater concept. He’s also penning his first book, Drink Like You Eat: The Seasonal Cocktail Cookbook, and continuing to expand his line of bitters.

  • On April 8, 2013
    Rebecca Reynolds is now following Adam Seger
  • On April 8, 2013
  • On April 8, 2013
    Andi Berens is now following Adam Seger
  • On April 8, 2013
    Adam Seger answered the question: Adam Seger

    What are the best neighborhoods in Chicago?

    I love Logan Square. I think it’s one of the best food neighborhoods right now. It reminds me a lot of Williamsburg and Brooklyn in that it’s a neighborhood that three or four years ago you would never think of living there or even going there. It still has its moments — you’ve got to keep alert — but because of the cost of living and the rent, there’s so many innovative and coming-up restaurants there right now that are also very affordable, and there’s a demographic to support it. People who live in Logan Square, they’re young professionals, they’re hip and they’re eating out five or six nights a week and like cocktails quite a bit. It’s an exciting neighborhood of great eclectic places that you can walk to. Its public transportation is really great as well, which I think is nice to be able to get there from any part of the city and go and have a good time and not really have to worry about parking or getting behind a car after you’ve had some cocktails.
  • On April 8, 2013
    Adam Seger answered the question: Adam Seger

    Where are the best cocktails in Chicago?

    I think Belly Q — that’s Peter Vestinos, he’s been there for just a few months, and it’s Bill Kim’s restaurant. I think what Peter has done is really blur the line between the kitchen and the bar and use a lot of ingredients from the kitchen in the cocktails. Also I think he’s really matching the style and flavor profiles of the cocktails to the food. That’s a really remarkable program.

    At Blackbird, the mixologist there, Lynn House, was at Graham Elliot. She grows a lot of her own foods, fruit and whatnot, and she’s a big gardener at home and brings that in and then does a lot of canning in the winter for her cocktails. I think that Blackbird is definitely one of my favorites. It’s one of the most consistent programs; she’s been there for a while and really has established a culture there. Those are a couple of the best ones in restaurants.
  • On April 8, 2013
    Adam Seger answered the question: Adam Seger

    What are the best bars in Chicago?

    When people come in town, one of the places I bring them to is The Aviary. And that’s Grant Achatz’s new bar that’s next to Next. When it originally opened, it had Craig Schoettler, who was one of the sous chefs from Alinea, as kind of the bar chef. The Aviary completely reinvented cocktails; whether you consider them cocktails or not, they certainly push the bar as far as what’s going on in drinks. And it didn’t necessarily connect back to a cocktail experience, but they were doing things where they’d have, for instance, an old fashioned that was inside of an ice cube, which is an amazingly cool presentation experience, but they were using a really boring whiskey. Charles Joly is now the mixologist there, and I think he’s one of the best in the country. He’s taking all of that innovation from the kitchen, but he’s bringing a little bit more classic cocktails, as far as the spirits, liqueurs and bitters that he uses. I think right now it’s the perfect storm for anyone who wants to see the level of where you can go to when you have a separate whole kitchen for making cocktails, you’re average cocktail is $20 and you have a sous chef that does nothing but make three cocktails, you know? It shows what you can do with that sort of perfect environment. That’s a great spot.

    Farmhouse is another one. And Farmhouse is on Chicago Avenue just off of Michigan Avenue. But you feel like you’re in a farmhouse, and it has a huge gin collection. It has every local spirit you can possibly get. It’s got all local beers and serves great fresh seasonal cocktails.

    Sepia is another one. Josh Pearson is the mixologist there. It has a very seasonal cocktail list. It’s a small bar, but it’s the bar for the restaurant. I think that anytime you have a restaurant bar where you can get a great craft cocktail by one of the city’s best mixologists and then order food from Andrew Zimmerman — he used to be at Park Hyatt Chicago’s NoMI — that’s a pretty remarkable experience.
  • On April 8, 2013
    Adam Seger answered the question: Adam Seger

    What are the best hotels in Chicago?

    I love The Peninsula. I think it’s done an amazing job of the elegant refinement of an extremely Asian-cultured hotel, as far as the look, feel and level of service. But it’s really embraced the city. I think that’s remarkable.

    I love The Drake, just as far as a step back in time. When you go to the Palm Court for afternoon tea, it’s the same level of experience of what’s been going on for years. It’s kind of neat to see the depth of all of the Gold Coasters who have been going there for decades. It’s a fun experience.

    Four Seasons Chicago is an absolutely beautiful hotel, and Kevin Hickey has the executive chef for the last several years. As a hotel chef, he was embracing buying as much food locally as possible before it was cool. He continues to lead it, but he was doing it a long time ago because he thought it was the right thing to do versus “Well, this is a great trend and marketing angle and everything like that.” I have a lot of respect for that hotel for being able to maintain a chef of his caliber and connections and for using local food and produce for so long.
  • On April 8, 2013
    Adam Seger answered the question: Adam Seger

    When is the best time to visit Chicago?

    The best time to visit Chicago is definitely the summer. In the winter, I do probably the bulk of my traveling. I try to kind of coordinate things to do as little traveling as possible in summer to enjoy Chicago. Then January, February and March, I sign up for every possible trip where I can go to somewhere warm. The first year we debuted my spirit, Hum, when we decided on which cities we were launching, they were completely based on the weather. So it was Miami, L.A. and New Orleans in the wintertime, and the summertime is Chicago and New York. Being an entrepreneur lets you connect your lifestyle to how you want to build your business.
  • On April 8, 2013
    Adam Seger answered the question: Adam Seger

    What are the best things to do in Chicago?

    I don’t have a car, so I’m a big bike rider. Chicago is definitely a city of neighborhoods and compared to cities of its size —say, New York or L.A. — I find it a much easier and more bike-friendly city. With L.A., it’s so spread out, and with New York, you’ve got so many bridges, where Chicago is a little bit kind of more compact. That’s a great way to get around and see the city. I love Millennium Park. I think when that opened Chicago really went to world-class-city level with that kind of public space right along the lake. And certainly the lake; it’s amazing how much it’s just like the ocean but just without the salt. You’ve got these beautiful white-sand beaches and waves, and you can’t see across, so it’s hard to imagine that it’s a lake.

    And then in the summertime, I think it’s like one of the most beautiful cities anywhere. The weather’s got its moments — when there’s snow on the ground, it’s absolutely stunning. The sleet in between is not so much fun, but I think everyone in Chicago kind of deals with that because they know in the summer it’s a really priceless city to be in.
  • On April 8, 2013
    Adam Seger answered the question: Adam Seger

    How did Adam Seger get into the mixology world?

    I bartended in college. I’ve always loved to cook, and bartending had an appeal to me because you’re doing both: You are preparing something in front of the guests to their specifications and you get immediate feedback — whether good or bad, it’s completely unfiltered. And so I kind of put that on the backburner for a few years, and focused mainly on wine and was working in upscale hotels and fine-dining restaurants. It really wasn’t until after working at The French Laundry that I really got into cocktails like I am now. It was a very organic process because I started learning all of these things about food from Thomas Keller and Rick Tramonto — I was the old GM at Tru — and I did a couple of stagiaires in Strasbourg, France. Then I took all that culinary knowledge and became a sommelier, as well. And to me, mixology is just a natural progression of both: You use all of the elements of flavor and balance that you use as a sommelier along with a respect for ingredients and how they’re processed and seasonality, seasoning and flavor you have in the kitchen. The bar is just a combination of all of those skills and experiences.
  • On April 8, 2013
    Adam Seger answered the question: Adam Seger

    What’s the one bar tool Adam Seger can’t live without?

    My Boston shaker. I’m old school — I just do the 16-ounce pint glass and the stainless-steel shaker. I have it with me everywhere; I don’t leave the house without it. It’s amazing — I’ll go to bars that have the bell shakers, like the copper ones, and I think you just don’t get enough airspace when you’re shaking with those to get a really nice frost and condensation with the ice. I also like having the glass pint glass because you can see what’s going into the drink versus in the metal, where you can’t really see what’s going on.

    When you build a cocktail in metal, you’re generally building it over ice, but the ice is starting to melt before you start shaking. Where when you build it in a pint glass, you’re not touching the alcohol and the base with ice until you’re ready to shake. It would be like in the kitchen, the last thing you’re going do is put that piece of fish in a sauté pan once you know you have all of your sauces, vegetables and seasonings ready to go because you want that fish cooked just at the last second and as fresh as possible when you bring it to the table. That’s the same thing about a cocktail — you have everything put together; you have everything pre-tasted; then that last thing, you add ice to your shaker and give it a good shake in a Boston shaker. So I definitely can’t live without that.
  • On April 8, 2013
    Adam Seger answered the question: Adam Seger

    What’s Adam Seger’s favorite ingredient for cocktails?

    Passion fruit. I always call it the bacon of the cocktail world. It’s got great acidity, so you can have all kinds of fun with different kinds of sweeteners to balance it. I never use corn syrup or processed sugar in my cocktails, so anything I’m balancing with is either homemade syrup, maple syrup, agave or an interesting liqueur. Passion fruit has actually even more acidity often times than even a lime. It brings that to the table, but then also has these amazing top notes. And I always say that if there’s a cocktail that needs to be amped up a little bit chances are — and it doesn’t work with everything — a little passion fruit adds an extra element. Similar to if you add bacon to most things, it’s going to improve it.
  • On April 8, 2013
    Adam Seger answered the question: Adam Seger

    What cocktail trend would Adam Seger love to see end?

    I would love to see the extinction of new flavors of all kinds of base spirits. Whether it’s vodka, rum, tequila, now even bourbon — all of these big brands have added all of these flavors and it takes away from it. You just can’t get that quality in a mass-produced flavor like you can with maceration. I think, actually, it’s interesting because there have been bars that have gotten so bombarded with the hundreds of flavored vodkas that get marketed and pitched to them that a lot of them now aren’t carrying any flavored vodkas.

    Now, they’ve got their craft vodka, and they’re doing their own infusions. It’s a little bit of a challenge with guests who have a particularly flavored spirit that is their go-to. It is a bit of an education when they’re like, “Well, why don’t you have Ketel Citroen?” or “Why don’t you have Bacardi Limón?” or “Why don’t you have Grey Goose La Poire?” And the bartender answers, “Well, we have this vodka or this rum or this bourbon, and we’ve infused it with local cherries, winter citrus, basil or whatever it is.”

    I think once guests try a fresh infusion, it’s a hit. For instance, we’ve got a location in Mizner Park in Boca Raton, and we don’t do any mainstream-marketed citrus vodkas. We’re Palm Beach County, which is one of the best citrus farm counties in the country, so we do local citrus for infusion for our house vodka. It’s really fun for somebody who has a particular brand that they really love; they try this with fresh local citrus, and it blows their mind that vodka can capture those lemon and lime oils so beautifully. You just can’t get it from something that’s not made from a real infusion.
  • On April 8, 2013
    Adam Seger answered the question: Adam Seger

    What are the latest cocktail trends Chicago?

    It’s very, very seasonal. I see a lot of things going on with winter citrus. When we get into the spring, rhubarb is the first local thing that we get, so I see that coming up quite a bit. More and more bars are starting to grow their own herbs and also go to the farmers market for seasonal produce for cocktails. So definitely seasonal adjustments are on the list quite a bit.

    There’s an absolute explosion of local spirits. We’ve gone from probably one craft distillery in the state for a number of years to five just in the city of Chicago. And the mixologists have kind of taken after the trend of the chefs. Chicago is definitely a big locavore city, and the chefs really support the local farmers and produce, and now the mixologists are starting to do the same thing with the local distilleries and local spirits.
  • On April 8, 2013
    Adam Seger answered the question: Adam Seger

    What is Adam Seger’s favorite cocktail?

    I would narrow it down to two because it kind of depends on the occasion. I love a classic champagne cocktail. Champagne’s my favorite wine, so it kind of kills two birds with one stone. And a well-made Manhattan is really hard to beat.