One of the cool things about cocktails is how one drink can provoke many different reactions (and some fun conversations). And this week’s feature, the Seelbach Cocktail is a very good example. Created at the Seelbach Hotel in Louisville Kentucky in 1917, the Seelbach cocktail combines bourbon, Cointreau, liberal doses of Angostura and Peychauds bitters all topped with dry champagne. The drink is sweet from the bourbon and Cointreau, with pronounced spice from the bitters but has a dry, light finish from the champagne. The Seelbach is a balanced, tasty, classic drink that is often seen on better cocktail menus. This is a cocktail we will continue to make, and enjoy, regularly.
But beyond simply tasting good, what makes the Seelbach so interesting is the varied reactions to the flavors. Both Carolyn and I lean towards lighter gin, rum and tequila cocktails. When we tasted the Seelbach’s sweet bourbon, orange and spice we immediately thought “great for winter holidays”. But our friends who enjoy Manhattans and Old Fashioneds like the Seelbach as a “lighter”, almost summery, drink. If you are a fan of whiskey-based cocktails, the Seelbach certainly succeeds in keeping the flavor profile of whiskey, but also adding new dimensions and a cleaner finish. Having such broad, but varied, appeal is pretty nice trick for such a simple drink.
Making the Seelbach is easy, but there are differences between recipes on the proportion of bitters. The original recipe calls for up to 7 dashes each of Angostura and Peychauds bitters, while other recipes (like Ted Haigh’s) call for 2-3 dashes each of the bitters. We went with the full seven dashes and like the pronounced spice flavor, but the bitters will show even with 2-3 dashes. These are fun experiments, so feel free to play around. Besides, you can use this as an excuse to make another round.
As for the bourbon, we use Makers Mark in the Seelbach, which tends to run pretty sweet, so we went a touch light with the Cointreau and it kept the cocktail in balance. Cointreau (or any good triple-sec) is great stuff for cocktails, but too much is cloying- so if using sweeter bourbon, keep this in mind. (We also tried the Seelbach using Bulleit Bourbon, but then we needed all the Cointreau.)
A last note on the bitters. If you don’t have Angostura and Peychauds bitters, the Seelbach cocktail is a good excuse to go get them. Angostura and Peychauds bitters (and maybe orange bitters) are all you need to build and/or enhance hundreds of classic cocktails, from 19th century classics all the way to Tiki drinks. So not only is the Seelbach tasty, it is a good excuse to improve all your cocktails. Another nice trick for such a simple drink.
The Seelbach Cocktail:
- 1 oz. bourbon
- ½ oz. Cointreau (or quality triple-sec)
- 7 dashes Angostura bitters
- 7 dashes Peychauds bitters
- 3 oz. dry champagne
- Lemon twist, for garnish (optional)
- Combine the bourbon, Cointreau and bitters in a cocktail shaker with ice. Shake thoroughly and strain into a chilled champagne flute.
- Slowly add the champagne to the flute. Garnish with a lemon twist, if you like.