Donned the “Charlie Trotter of cocktails” and “Spirits Guru,” Adam Seger is a nationally-acclaimed mixologist, certified culinary professional and a Court of Master Sommeliers Advanced Sommelier who has clocked time at the French Laundry, TRU, Nacional 27 and other notable institutions around the globe. He is the founder of the Chicago-based Hum Spirits Co., a botanical-infused liqueur, and soon-to-be author of Drink Like You Eat: 40 Cocktails from the Garden to the Glass and The Farm Bar.
FE&S: When you were young, what did you want to be when you grew up?
Adam Seger: A chef.
FE&S: Did you know you were going into the hospitality industry when you were in high school?
Adam Seger: Yes, I knew in fact that I wanted to go to the Cornell Hotel School since freshman year at St. Paul’s in Garden City, New York.
FE&S: According to your high school yearbook, what would you have been “most likely to”?
Adam Seger: “Most likely to eat and drink well and have people around him eat and drink well.”
FE&S: What was your very first job?
Adam Seger: Dishwasher for Uncle Dick’s Depot restaurant. Age 12, $1.10/hour, Johnson Siding, South Dakota, and I LOVED it.
FE&S: Did you attend any schooling or classes for mixology?
Adam Seger: Cornell Hotel School and getting my Certified Culinary Professional certification from IACP (International Association of Culinary Professionals) both helped me have a strong foundation.
FE&S: What have been your most nightmarish non-culinary jobs in the past?
Adam Seger: Cleaning rooms in an 11-room B&B at age 13 for the summer. People can be filthy creatures. It really made me respect the hard work that housekeepers do in hotels. It changed the way I leave hotel bathrooms for life.
FE&S: When did you start dabbling in cocktails?
Adam Seger: My dad was a bartender in college. Growing up, I always thought that was cool. I learned to bartend at Statler Hotel, the teaching hotel of Cornell Hotel School. He taught me all the classics and once you have made a drink twice, you know it. Fast forward to me as Director of Restaurants at The Seelbach in Louisville. I used to go to this great place called Hassenour’s, a converted funeral home turned temple of bourbon. This is where I went to Whiskey School with 3rd generation barman Max Allen Jr., basically tasting my way through bourbon history as I sat at Max’s bar and he passionately shared his knowledge. When Hassenour’s closed, I hired Max (and his boss Bill Altman) as my “Bartender Emeritus” at the Seelbach. Max taught me everything. It was also through the Seelbach that I made friends with Dale and Jill DeGroff. I got a six-hour one-on-one tutelage by Dale after the 1999 Bourbon Ball. He and Jill had a 7:00 a.m. flight, so we kept Max’s bar open until 6:00 a.m. and he instructed me on making his favorite classic cocktails. That’s where I learned the craft of bartending.