Ode to Bitters: Epilogue

Long before I ever dreamed of plunging into the world of heavily bittered cocktails, and having my mind and taste buds thoroughly challenged to boot, there was the Seelbach. I guess it has been inevitable since that day when Tracy and I sauntered into Vessel shortly after it first opened, now years ago, and I watched as the waitress placed before me a glass of bubbling dark pink goodness. I was hooked, and we have been making Seelbachs ever since. It is a house favorite, as we always have the ingredients on hand, except for the bubbly. Usually Seelbachs get trotted out when there is an open bottle of champagne in the house that needs to be polished off. I also enjoy introducing it to people who like champagne cocktails. Bubbles make everything so festive and fun, but the bitters add a dimension, and albeit a seriousness, that most people don't expect. It can be an eye-opener, and I don't mean in a corpse reviver mode, though it would work that way too.

As with all great classic cocktails, there must be a legend. The drink was named for and created at the Seelbach Hotel in Louisville, Kentucky in 1917. According to legend, a bartender was preparing two drinks at once: an Old Fashioned and some champagne. Side note: The substitution of triple sec for the sugar (or simple syrup) in the recipe for a Seelbach leads me to believe he was making a fancy whiskey cocktail, but that is neither here nor there. When the bartender pops the champagne, it simply explodes going everywhere . . . including in the Old Fashioned. Said bartender puts the mess aside and quickly fixes up another Old Fashioned for his customer, probably with any number of good curse words mumbled under his breath. As he starts to clean up, like any curious person, he takes a swig of that ruined Old Fashioned with the champagne and, as they say, the rest is history.

Now Prohibition must enter the story, as it usually does when it comes to anything good that existed before 1920. The Seelbach recipe was lost in those dark times, as were a great many other things, during the Noble Experiment. In 1995 the recipe was rediscovered by the hotel manager and now we all can enjoy it.

adapted Seelbach Cocktail

1 ounce bourbon
1/2 ounce triple sec
7 dashes Angostura bitters
7 dashes Peychaud's bitters

Pour ingredients into a chilled champagne flute. Top with champagne (4 to 5 ounces, to taste) . Give it a little stir. Garnish with a long piece of orange peel (optional).

Notes on ingredients: I used Basil Hayden's Bourbon.

This is a wonderful combination of bitters and champagne with a hint of bourbon and orange. The drink's beautiful pink color, a side effect of the Peychaud's bitters, glints in the sun as the bubbles rise. Overall, it is very dry and refreshing, with just the right amount of sweetness and complexity. This is a perfect drink to enjoy out on the porch before dinner while gazing out as the sun slides behind the mountains to the west. It is also good in the dead of winter when you just want to huddle down under a blanket and forget whatever is going on outside.