In foodie circles, imaginative chefs and groundbreaking bartenders are celebrated like rock stars. "Rock star" may not be the best way to describe Eric Seed, a husband and father of two who admittedly doesn't get out much. But without setting foot in a kitchen or behind a bar, the Edina resident has earned ovations in the beverage world.
"He can walk into a bar anywhere in New York City and people know who he is," said Rob Jones, bar manager and cocktail creator at Saffron.
Seed, a wine and spirits importer, is nationally known for unearthing forgotten spirits, liqueurs and artisanal apéritifs and bringing them to market in the United States. Seed was hailed as one of Bon Appétit's 2012 tastemakers and was a James Beard award semifinalist this year in the Outstanding Wine, Beer or Spirits Professional category. Prominent cocktail scribe Camper English once dubbed him "the Indiana Jones of lost spirits."
"When Camper coined the phrase my wife rejoined, 'That's no excuse not to shave and bathe,' " the 43-year-old joked over breakfast at Harriet Brasserie.
The alcohol archaeologist isn't exactly battling Nazis on his quest for quaffable relics. Seed said he largely seeks out libations his industry friends ask for, along with personal discoveries like Cardamaro Vino Amaro, which caught his eye in a boutique in Torino, Italy.
Seed's product line includes items like Hayman's Old Tom Gin, a Victorian-era style that's sweeter than today's more commonly found London Dry gins, and a centuries-old Dutch Indies spirit, Batavia Arrack. The latter, traditionally used in punches, was last available stateside before Prohibition, Seed said.
America also long made due without crème de violette, an ingredient in the original recipe for the classic Aviation cocktail, until Seed started importing Rothman & Winter's potent liqueur.
But perhaps the rarest potable artifact his Haus Alpenz company offers is Black Tot Last Consignment. The pot-still rum was issued daily to British naval officers for more than 300 years until 1970. No longer in production, the uber-scarce spirit retails for around $1,100 a bottle. "When it's gone it's gone," Seed said. "It's a view into a world of rum that really no longer exists."
Eight years after the launch of Haus Alpenz, many of his products have become commonplace in premier cocktail bars and restaurants across the country (and at local liquor stores Surdyk's and South Lyndale Liquors). Eight of the 12 cocktails on Jones' spring drinks menu call for at least one of Seed's elixirs, including a sensational Sidecar made with Cocchi Americano — an Italian apéritif more robust and lingering than the French-produced Lillet. While Jones uses it to both bitter and sweeten his spring Sidecar, it's also served on the rocks with a splash of soda and squeeze of citrus.
The rum-reviving, gin-rekindling Seed said he enjoys the history behind his mostly family-produced imports, and the connection point to other cultures the tasting experience provides. But it would all be for naught if the bottles just sat around collecting dust.
"There are plenty of things we could do that would be nice as a shelf decoration," he said.
Curious diners and History Channel-TiVoing cocktailians alike: Make room in your glasses.
Michael Rietmulder writes about bars and nightlife.