I discovered the Seelbach Hilton, in Louisville, Kentucky, by accident. I was stuck at a convention, and I had some time on my hands. Looking through the “Welcome to Greater Louisville magazine,” I read an article about a meal at the Seelbach. At the time, I wanted a country ham to bring back home, and I figured that the guys at the Seelbach would know where to find the real thing. I called the hotel, and one of the chefs said, “If you have 40 bucks, I have an extra ham in the fridge.”
“Deal,” I replied. Then I walked over to the hotel. In the old days, the Seelbach embodied (as it still does) turn-of-the-century grandeur in all its gilded opulence. A subterranean tile-and-limestone cavern, lined improbably with hundreds of pelican sculptures, was the site of an old speakeasy, where the father of Max Allen Jr., 60, the current bartender, turned out sweet Mint Juleps during the Prohibition era.
For this story, I asked the Seelbach’s restaurant director, Adam Seger, 29, to come up with a few bourbon-and-cigar pairings for people who like to finish off their holiday meal with a drink and a smoke. Everyone knows about cognac and cigars. But it seemed to me — and Seger agreed — that the fine bourbons now coming out of Kentucky would stand up to any European postprandial. So light up a smoke, sip a bourbon, and then tuck yourself in for a long winter’s nap.
Pappy Van Winkle’s Family Reserve 20-Year 90.4-proof Kentucky Bourbon, $78, with a La Gloria Cubana Glorias Inmensas, $5.
This combo pairs a medium-strength cigar with a full-bodied bourbon. Pappy’s leathery texture and aroma play beautifully off of La Gloria Cubana’s Ecuadoran wrapper.
Booker’s Unfiltered Kentucky Sour Mash Bourbon, $55, with a Casa Blanca Jeroboam, $3.25.
A “hot” bourbon (it’s literally hot in your throat) with a whopping 126-to-127 barrel proof. This pairing is for cigar smokers-cum-bourbon drinkers who take their pleasures seriously. Not for the meek.
Labrot & Graham’s Woodford Reserve Distiller’s Select, $31, with a Hamiltons Reserve George I, $11.
The cigar’s cinnamon-coffee flavor complements the spicy-dry finish of the bourbon. Woodford is meant to be savored, so a Churchill (large-size cigar) gives the smoker enough time to enjoy every last sip.
Very Special Old Fitzgerald 12-Year-Old Kentucky Sour Mash Bourbon, $39, with a Montecristo No.3 Corona, $6.
An impeccably crafted cigar and a truly fine bourbon. The combination works beautifully: Each item balances the other’s smooth flavors and long finishes.
Coordinates: Adam Seger, restaurant director at the Seelbach Hilton, 500 Fourth Avenue, Louisville, Kentucky, 502-585-3200.