“Like food, cocktails should smell good,” says mixologist Adam Seger, of Chicago, as he prepares his Magnolia Martinis for guests.
Readying rosemary for his Grace Under Fire, Seger slaps sprigs of the herb against his hand, releasing its spicy aroma.
“I like using herbs because you smell the cocktail before drinking it,” says Seger, who was making a stop in his hometown to fulfill a promise.
Seger’s cocktail-crafting skills were auctioned off last February for St. Luke’s Episcopal School’s “Eat, Drink and Bid” fundraiser. Headed to New Orleans for Tales of the Cocktail, he detoured to the Capital City to man the bar for a “Sippin’ Spirits” soiree for 10 couples.
When party time came, the certified culinary professional and advanced sommelier whipped up his specialty martinis and Grace Under Fire, a concoction of homemade ginger beer, grilled pineapple infused with Boys & Blair Vodka, and rosemary.
He also mixed up Grilled Pineapple Mules, Blood Orange Punch and Hallelujah Spritz, made with Balsam Amarol, prosecco and basil, along with Grilled Peach Champagne Cocktails.
As he worked, Seger reminisced about growing up in Baton Rouge and how Louisiana’s food culture influenced him.
“I started cooking as a little kid. My parents got a blender when I was 5, and I started perfecting smoothies,” Seger says. “Cocktails are a natural progression in cooking. You learn to taste and balance.”
Seger attended St. Luke’s from kindergarten through fourth grade when his father, the Rev. Canon David Seger, served as chaplain at Episcopal High School, where the younger Seger was a student through the eighth grade. Then the family moved to Long Island when Seger’s father took a position at the national church headquarters in Manhattan.
Seger later studied hotel administration and wine at the Cornell Hotel School.
But St. Luke’s still finds its way into his world.
His Magnolia Martini gets its name from the magnolia tree in front of St. Luke’s Church that Seger remembers climbing as a boy. The martini, garnished with a freeze-dried satsuma slice, features a magnolia “shrub.”
“A shrub is the 18th century way to preserve fruit, which is cooked with sugar and vinegar,” he explains. “It was popular to add to punches, teas and cocktails.”
He uses Steen’s Cane Vinegar to make his own shrubs.
“I love that vinegar because it’s so clean,” he says.
To make his signature cocktails, Seger says he begins with the classics and brings in the seasonal, such as rosemary, basil and satsumas.
“That’s one of my favorite ways to bring farmers markets into your cocktail,” says Seger, who pours his cocktails without measuring. “I’ve been doing it for 20 years,” he says.
For parties, you can make cocktails in batches, Seger says, adding that to serve drinks such as martinis good and cold, first chill the glasses by filling them with ice. Pour out the ice before adding the drink.
And, he notes, like wine, cocktails can be paired with foods at dinners by adjusting acidity and flavors.
Seger, corporate sommelier/mixologist for iPic Theaters and mixologist in residence at The Art Institute of Chicago, also is a founding partner with Hum Spirits, Balsam Spirits and Rare Botanical Bitters Co. Naturally, he uses some of those products in his cocktails.
He says Rare Tea Cellar Ginger Demerara Syrup, Southern Decadence Magnolia Shrub and Blood Orange Pu-Ehr Tea are available at rareteacellar.com, and Boyd & Blair Potato Vodka and Balsam American Amaro are at Martin’s Wine Cellar. Balsam Amaro is at Vieux Carre Liquors and Keife & Co. in New Orleans.