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
    Adam Seger answered the question: Adam Seger

    What is Adam Seger working on now?

    I do all of the cocktails for a group called iPic entertainment, which is a group of luxury movie theaters that have full-service craft-cocktail menus. We’ve got nine locations, but the one in Milwaukee, we just did the restaurant concept, so I’ve been up there doing the training. We’ve got our next location opening on Wilshire Boulevard in L.A. this fall. Those are a lot of fun. Besides doing the cocktail list, we also will partner up with studios. For instance, I created some cocktails for Gangster Squad, and I’m definitely a movie buff. They’ve got to be creative, and I hadn’t seen the movie, so I do as much research as I can and create a cocktail that really kind of embodies what the movie is about. When you go to an iPic theater, you’ve got a big overstuffed chair similar to the kind you’d find flying in international business class, but they also bring you a pillow and a blanket; you’ve got a server who takes care of your food and your drinks. If you’re watching a movie in that kind of environment and can have a cocktail that is really creatively themed to the movie, I think it’s a really all-encompassing experience. I spend probably most of my time on that, and it’s definitely some of the most fun.

    Other than that, I’ve started a bitters company. The first we’ve done is winter black Périgord truffle bitters, and we had kind of a kick-off at the Cayman Cookout where we did an armagnac sidecar that was finished with shaved truffles and truffle bitters. That’s a lot of fun — kind of taking the cocktail bitters to what we’re calling “affordable luxury.” With spirits, it’s great to freeze a particular flavor or aroma that’s available for a limited part of the year and time; because once you soak those truffles in a high-proof spirit, it just casts that really interesting touch. You can have a unique experience on the finishing top of a cocktail. So that’s one project, and the other — and this is with the same partner that I’m doing the bitters with — is I’m working on a sweet vermouth. I think vermouth is one of the most interesting and important spirits right now because so many bars and mixologists are doing pre-Prohibition cocktails and Jerry Thomas-inspired cocktails from the 19th century. When you go to those old books, more than one out of two cocktails have vermouth in it. It was just so prevalent, and now slowly I’m seeing some more progressive bars trying to promote drinking vermouth like you would in Europe, where you just can have it on the rocks or with some soda and a twist. I’ve also seen the quality of vermouth at the bars increase dramatically. But one of the things I haven’t really seen is the quality of one of the top Italian vermouths made in the U.S. What we want to do, with the rise of craft spirits in the U.S., is an American vermouth that is at the quality of a Carpano Antica from Italy or a Dolin from France.
  • On April 8, 2013
    Adam Seger answered the question: Adam Seger

    What does Adam Seger wear when he travels?

    I definitely always have a hat. I kind of feel like Fonzie because I’ve never bought two of the same shoes in my life, but I found this woven black leather sneaker — it kind of looks like a Vans sneaker. They’re as comfortable as a sneaker, but you could wear them with a tuxedo. And I bought seven pairs of them. It’s the perfect shoe because I can be going from something at Four Seasons or The Ritz-Carlton to a neighborhood bar to walking around a city and airport, and it’s great to not have to take up my luggage. That and a pair of running shoes, that’s all I need.
  • On April 8, 2013
    Adam Seger answered the question: Adam Seger

    Who is Adam Seger’s favorite travel companion?

    My partner, as many trips as he’s not working, we travel together. And it’s good because I’m the one who cooks. He loves food, but isn’t necessarily as much of a foodie. So it’s fun because I get to kind of design a lot of eating and drinking menus. Then he’s in charge of the cultural aspect of it. It balances it out. We get to eat well and then we get to see the cool stuff. He kind of plans his part for the both of us, and I do the same. It works out beautifully.
  • On April 8, 2013
    Adam Seger answered the question: Adam Seger

    What is Adam Seger’s favorite airline?

    Virgin — without hesitation. I mean, Virgin is the only airplane I fly where you’re kind of disappointed when they’re like, “We’re starting to descend,” because you get in your seat and are ordering drinks and food. I’m entertained, I’m comfortable and I’m not ready to land. It’s great. Virgin is outstanding. I think it’s also the culture of the company. It’s a real pleasure from the first second to the end. I just can’t get enough of it.
  • On April 8, 2013
    Adam Seger answered the question: Adam Seger

    What does Adam Seger collect from his travels?

    Any kind of beer, wine or spirit that I can’t get in Chicago — that’s what I seek out. I’m usually doing something at a hotel or a restaurant or some kind of industry event. So I always ask the locals and look at menus and find out what’s produced there that hasn’t gotten exported or brought to Chicago yet. From the Caymans, it’s about 90 miles from Cuba, so there’s some very limited bottlings of Havana Club rum that I brought back. It’s really easy to get basic Havana Club at duty free, but not necessarily some of the reserves and single-cask stuff, so that was kind of fun to grab.
  • On April 8, 2013
    Adam Seger answered the question: Adam Seger

    What does Adam Seger always travel with?

    I always travel with my bar kit, which is always interesting. I think it’s about three and a half years now I haven’t had a single trip that I haven’t gotten that piece of paper in my luggage that says, “The TSA has been through all of your stuff.” Because I have, obviously, unusual bar tools, knives and vials of bitters and different tinctures that I’m working on. So they’re always quite curious about what is in my luggage.
  • On April 8, 2013
    Adam Seger answered the question: Adam Seger

    What’s the best trip Adam Seger has ever taken?

    I did the cocktails for Eric Ripert’s Cayman Cookout. It was at The Ritz-Carlton, Grand Cayman, so right on the beach — amazing, amazing hotel and food from Eric, José Andrés, Daniel Humm, Paul Bartolotta and Anthony Bourdain for five days in January, when it’s 70 degrees. It was pretty hard to beat.

    The first night was a very formal wine dinner and then the next night is a barefoot barbecue on the beach where they set up the barbecues right in the water. Then one night is a $700-per-person dinner at Blue — just completely over the top. But then the day before, Ripert is making snapper burgers on the beach. So it was just a really fun kind of combination. There were a couple times where you had to put on long pants, but other than that, it’s like you barely had to wear shoes. That was a real treat.
  • On April 8, 2013
    Adam Seger answered the question: Adam Seger

    What are Adam Seger’s favorite restaurants?

    I’ll go from high-end to basic. Probably one of the best meals that I’ve had in the last couple of years was at Le Cinq at the Four Seasons in Paris. And it was interesting because it was a week that we had really indulged and hit multiple award-winning restaurants. That was the most distinct. On a technical level, the others were all flawless, but Le Cinq had a warm compassion from the staff that really, really set it apart. Obviously you’re going to expect the service, but to bring warmth in to make you feel comfortable and especially welcome, that just brings it to another wonderful level.

    In Chicago, I had a great meal at Grace. That’s Curtis Duffy’s new restaurant; he was a chef at Avenues at The Peninsula. With Trotter’s closing, I think it’s going to go in its place as Chicago’s most-awarded restaurant. It’s just really, really amazing; every detail from just even the feel of the tablecloths and the menus to really beautiful inventive cuisine, pushing the boundaries enough but also not too over the top with molecular and whatnot. It’s just enough to be really interesting, but still stays true to the soul of the food. There’s a great wine program, as well. He’s got Michael Muser, who was sommelier with him at Avenues —extremely knowledgeable, well-chosen, well-priced and zero pretension.

    Another place in Chicago that just opened that’s great is called The Monarch. The chef is Andrew Brochu. He’s an ex-Alinea guy. He was there for three years and then worked for Graham Elliot. It’s real interesting. It’s a very neighborhood Chicago bar but with extremely elevated, inventive bar food. It’s fun seeing Andrew keep his commitment to a completely from-scratch and very creative kitchen but doing it in a neighborhood bar environment where you can just go in and grab something at the bar or kind of create a tasting menu. It’s really, really outstanding. It’s in Wicker Park. You can get anything from foie gras with strawberry jam to a burger. He’s really well known for his chicken wings, and he does these ones with juice from housemade pickles. Just the combination between crispy and acid, it’s a kind of sophistication as far as flavor, heat, acid and texture you’d see in fine dining, but it’s dining with a chicken wing. So it’s a completely great bar snack but has as much sophistication as you would find in a Four-Star restaurant.

    In New Orleans, I had a great meal the last time I was down there at Restaurant R’evolution. It’s Rick Tramonto and John Folse’s new place. It was kind of fun because I used to be general manager at Tru and I grew up in south Louisiana, so it was really interesting to see some elements of Rick’s playful, inventive picture with John Folse’s soulful and historically reverent Louisiana cooking. It’s a very fun combination and really exciting.
  • On April 8, 2013
    Adam Seger answered the question: Adam Seger

    What features does Adam Seger look for in hotels?

    Besides hotels bars, I really love hotels that have a distinct local character — both architecturally and historically. That’s part of the fun of travel is to really get into where you’re staying — architecture, history, food. I look for a hotel that really embraces that local experience, versus something that is consistent everywhere for the business traveler. That’s not quite what I look for. When you go into a hotel room and a hotel lobby that could really be anywhere, it kind of takes the fun out of traveling.
  • On April 8, 2013
    Adam Seger answered the question: Adam Seger

    What are Adam Seger’s favorite hotels?

    I love The Savoy in London because it’s a great location to get kind of all the sites you’d want to be at, but there’s so much rich history. Certainly being a cocktail fan, the bar at The Savoy is one of the most important hotel bars anywhere, certainly in London. The Savoy Cocktail Book is kind of like one of our bibles. Staying there is always a treat. I love the Clift in San Francisco; it’s got the Redwood Room in there. A lot of my favorite hotels have great hotel bars as well. I mean that’s one of the treats — taking the elevator home after you’ve had a nightcap.

    In New Orleans, I love the Royal Sonesta. You’re really right there in the heart of the French Quarter. There’s also Irvin Mayfield’s Jazz Playhouse. He’s one of the great modern jazz saxophonists. It has Restaurant R’evolution as well. So that’s my favorite spot there.

    An interesting one is Four Seasons Hotel Las Vegas; it’s such a wonderful break from all the flashing lights. You’re out in the casinos, but after walking into the Four Seasons, there are no flashing lights or electronic noises. It makes Las Vegas a lot more bearable.
  • On April 8, 2013
    Adam Seger answered the question: Adam Seger

    What are Adam Seger's favorite cities?

    London is my go-to city for cocktails and mixology inspiration. From the artsy grit of Shoreditch to the elegance of Kensington, places like Lab Bar in the ’90s were the cocktail-culture incubator for the worldwide cocktail renaissance we are experiencing now. I get my creative batteries charged whenever I visit my mixology mates in London, bringing back to the States the equivalent of having gone in a time machine to the next most-on-point cocktail trends. London is bloody expensive, but like any city, most navigable for the savvy voyager. It also has an economy that supports the average £12 cocktail.

    Montreal is a gem, especially old Montreal. It's like a quick trip to Paris with a citywide discount card and without the pretense. The cocktail scene has not developed as well as the cutting-edge Vancouver scene, but it makes up for it in charm.

    San Francisco is a city for lovers, food and wine lovers and cocktailians. Because the locals and visitors were already sold on farm-to-table, sustainable and startlingly fresh cooking much thanks to Alice Waters, the craft-cocktail movement was a natural. With the largest U.S. Bartending Guild in the States and an explosion of craft distilleries, San Francisco's cocktail scene will do nothing but get better.

    New Orleans is a must and with Tales of the Cocktail — the largest and most influential annual cocktail event in the world — it's the equivalent of Vegas going from buffet-centric food culture to a center for some of the greatest chefs on earth. New Orleans has gone from daiquiris coming out of machines on Bourbon Street to having a flawless respect for the classics and an über-respect for the craft of bartending.

    I love New York as well, my high school stomping ground. What has changed is my former Manhattan-centric eating and drinking has shifted to Brooklyn and Williamsburg. There is a creative verve with newly energized neighborhoods in Brooklyn raising the bar on cocktail culture sans the hoi polloi of some of Manhattan's more intimidating cocktail establishments. That being said, no cocktail trip to New York is complete without a visit to PDT, Death & Co., Mayahuel and Employees Only, who were instrumental in starting the thriving New York cocktail scene.

    Off the radar are Atlanta and Denver for eating and drinking. Denver is one of the best restaurant/craft-cocktail bar walking cities in a sustainably minded craft-spirit environment with the backdrop of the Rockies. Atlanta has a thriving food, craft beer and cocktail scene whose sophistication shocks the unsuspected. With a sprawling layout, getting a driver is a great investment.