Meet The Bartender Who Created His Own Spirit

We may receive a commission on purchases made from links.

While studying at Cornell's School of Hotel Administration, Adam Seger opted to bartend at the university's on-campus hotel, The Statler. The bartending was very classic, and so at the age of 19, he had already mastered how to make an Old Fashioned and how to properly stir a martini. We are talking about 1987 and I do not need to remind anyone of how difficult it was at the time to find a bartender — Dale DeGroff not included — to make good classic cocktails.

After college, Adam worked in a few hotels until he ended up at the world-famous Seelbach Hotel in Louisville, Kentucky. It was here that he resurrected a classic and historic drink that had originally been the hotel's house cocktail. The recipe had been lost in time and Adam found it on old menus he located in the hotel archives. It was a pre-Prohibition cocktail that had probably been lost during Prohibition's dark ages, but one that you can now find on menus in classic cocktail bars all over the world. Adam kept the recipe a secret for a while so that it could remain a special drink at the Seelbach, but eventually caved in and gave it to Gaz Regan, who published it in his book New Classic Cocktails, which was published in 1997.

The Seelbach Cocktail

1 ounce Old Forrester Bourbon

3/4 ounce Tripe Sec

7 dashes Angostura bitters

7 dashes Peychaud bitters

Champagne, to top

Orange zest

Stir ingredients with ice and strain into a champagne flute. Top with chilled champagne and garnish with an orange zest.

While on a student budget during his college days, Adam started making his own version of Kahlua to save a bit of cash. This creation was to be only the beginning of Adam's experimentation with liquor production. After his stint at the Seelbach, Adam bartended at various cocktail bars, but it was at Chicago's Nacional 27 that I first met him, having heard of a guy who was making his own house bitters, homemade sweet vermouth and liqueurs, as well as a very experimental cocktail menu. It was one of the few places in the city that was really pushing the craft at the time, and so naturally, I would stop by on my every visit when I was working on the launch of Plymouth Gin.

With all this experimentation at Nacional 27, Adam started thinking about creating his own spirit and began playing around with various flavors. It was a trip he took to Martinique that really inspired him, though, and he worked extensively with the island's indigenous flavors. He started macerating hibiscus, ginger and cardamom into rums, and after a year of perfecting the recipe, and with a little help from friend Francesco Lafrancon, who suggested adding kaffir lime, Hum was created.

Hum is a molasses rumbased botanical spirit made at the Boyd & Blair Distillery in Western Pennsylvania. Simply put, there is really nothing else out there quite like it. Adam to refers to this unique spirit as a "modern American Amaro." It has been three years since it was created, and it is currently available in 23 states and three countries. It is a great drink on its own, and makes a decent apéritif when mixed with soda. It is also a really great addition to the back bar for bartenders to get the flavors of hibiscus, ginger and cardamom in cocktails.

I really like Adam's story because I believe that bartenders are a hotbed of innovation, despite rarely getting the chance to step away from the bar to bring their ideas to life. Adam somehow managed to find the time and create a brand, and now spends much of his time experimenting with new ideas like a mad scientist in the Rare Tea Cellar of Chicago. As he plays around with various spices and works with infusions and other concoctions, there is always the possibility that perhaps one day he will release another unique creation like Hum. When I left his lab this past week, indications were that his next product is going to be an American vermouth that he will launch at some point in the summer. I look forward to tasting it for sure. For now, a cocktail with Hum:

Hum Before the Storm

1 1/2 ounces Hum

1/2 ounce fresh lime juice

Ginger Beer

Build over fresh ice and garnish with a lime wheel.

The Hunch

1 part Hum

1/2 part lemon juice

1/2 part maple syrup

2 parts strongly brewed rooibos tea

Fresh basil and seasonal fruit, for garnish

Place all ingredients in a punch bowl with ice.

Read more Drink Ford Tough columns on Food Republic: