A couple of interesting stories found on the web about some of absinthe's cousins. These are drinks that also taste like licorice (or, to be more specific, anise-flavors). Local favorites like ouzo (Greece), raki (Turkey), Sambuca (Italy) and Patxarán (Spain) all use anise as a flavoring and many can be watered down and "louched" just like absinthe.
This article, from the St. Petersburg (Fla) Times, has a very nice picture of a louched ouzo, a very pretty pearly white. The author describes the Greek culture" surrounding ouzo, some different brands, and how to drink it. Also included are some foods that go nicely with this pastis.
In The Spirit World, Brenda is Raki'n and Rollin' in Turkey. An even closer relative to absinthe than ouzo, raki goes way back and is often recommended by real absintheurs as a good baby step towards enjoying the much more complex emerald liquor of absinthe. And it has the added benefit of being available on most liquor store shelves! She also points out some good brands to try, as well as food to eat with it.
A play featuring two of the more colorful characters of the Decadent era and two of Belle Époque's biggest absinthe's imbibers, has opened in London. The tempetuous relationship between Paul Verlain, the most popular Decadent poet and Arthur Rimbaud, its enfant terrible, is the central story in Stewart Laing's "Slope". It is played in a custom-built stage shaped like a toilet bowl!Telegraph | Entertainment | Bird's-eye view of a doomed love affair
The in-flight magazine for EasyJet, a European economy airline, features an amazingly accurate (for print media) article on finding absinthe in Paris. The writer even does a good job with the thumbnail history sketch. The Vert d'Absinthe shop is featured, as is a wonderful sounding bar at the Café Procope, "the oldest café in the world", complete with chandeliers and absinthe fountains:
But today, dinner or a drink at the Procope is a cheerful affair and the place has a fantastic buzz on a Saturday night. It’s colourfully done out in gilt, red, plush, chandeliers, mirrors, pictures and quaint objets d’art—which, of course, include glittering Absinthe “fountains” .
Our only real nits to pick with the article are its claim that modern absinthes are 40% to 50% alcohol (really more like 60%-75%) and quoting Madame Delahaye with the awful canard about absinthe losing its "mystique" if it should become legalized. For our sake, we are willing to take that chance.easyJet Inflight June 2006
David Lebovitz admits to not liking anise flavored drinks(!) (including, of course, absinthe) but loving it as a flavor enhancer for cooking. So being the expert dessert chef he is, he whips up an astoundingly delicious sounding Absinthe Cake recipe. It only uses a 1/4 cup of absinthe, so you won't be draining away too much of the precious emerald drink. And I also never heard of aluminum being in baking powder. Check it out next time you are in the grocery store.David Lebovitz Absinthe Cake
Ernest Dowson was one of the more famouse (or would that be infamous?) writers of the Decadent Movement, along with other fellow absinthe drinkers like Oscar Wilde, Arthur Rimbaud, and Paul Verlaine, all of whom would live fast, die young and leave a good corpse. He didn't actually produce much poetry in his short life, but this particular prose poem is a nice hymn to absinthe:
Green changed to white, emerald to opal; nothing was changed. The man let the water trickle gently into his glass, and as the green clouded, a mist fell from his mind. Then he drank opaline. Memories and terrors beset him. The past tore after him like a panther and through the blackness of the present he saw the luminous tiger eyes of the things to be. But he drank opaline. And that obscure night of the soul, and the valley of humiliation, through which he stumbled, were forgotten. He saw blue vistas of undiscovered countries, high prospects and a quiet, caressing sea. The past shed its perfume over him, to-day held his hand as if it were a little child, and tomorrow shone like a white star: nothing was changed. He drank opaline. The man had known the obscure night of the soul, and lay even now in the valley of humiliation; and the tiger menace of the things to be was red in the skies. But for a little while he had forgotten. Green changed to white, emerald to opal; nothing was changed.
Paul from Cocktail Chronicles gives a good description of the talk by Ted Breaux, of Jade Liqueurs, at this years Tale of the Cocktail. Complete with pictures, now we really wish we had been able to make it to Tales of the Cocktail ...The Cocktail Chronicles - Tales of the Cocktail, Day 3
I've now personally scored six bottles of absinthe from three different sources and I'm gonna give you the straight dope (and stop writing like I'm working on a script for Starsky and Hutch).
My first absinthe purchase was made in Paris at Vert d'Absinthe, a very nice little shop dedicated to absinthe. I bought a bottle of Jade Liqueurs' Nouvelle-Orléans and a bottle of their Blanchette. When I asked the owner of the shop about taking absinthe back to the U.S. he said that it shouldn't be a problem. He was right! I declared the absinthe on my customs form and even specifically mentioned it to the customs agent. The agent didn't seem at all interested, which I took to indicate that it's not uncommon for them to see absinthe and they aren't concerned with it.
My second purchase was made online via eAbsinthe.com, a bottle of La Fée Parisian 68% and a bottle of La Fée Parisian 45%. (I was curious about the differences in alcohol content.) I was surprised at how easy it was to place the order and pay for it - maybe only a little bit harder than ordering something from Amazon. eAbsinthe ships from the U.K. and so I was expecting to have to wait a while to receive my absinthe, but a nice heavy package arrived 4 or 5 days later. The absinthe bottles were carefully packaged in molded styrofoam and a little bit of butcher paper. I was a little concerned about the bottles breaking during shipping but they definitely know how to pack them.
My third experience was also online and just as easy as the second. I ordered a bottle of Jade's Edouard 72 and a bottle of Verte Suisse 65 (as well as a couple of absinthe reservoir glasses). This time I ordered through Liqueurs de France. They have a very nice site with a lot of good information about what you're buying. It was again very easy to place the order and to pay for it. Again, the order arrived fairly quickly in a very well packed box.
My conclusion is that if you want to get yourself some absinthe it's actually pretty easy. The next question is: Will easy availability remove some of the mystique and desire?
Blogger ex-patriate David Lebovitz writes about his visit to Vert d'Absinthe, the shop where we purchased a couple of bottles of absinthe ourselves. Some nice pictures too.David Lebovitz : Visit to Vert d'Absinthe
An interesting Q&A with Ted Breaux, the chemist mastermind behind the Jade Liquors absinthes and someone who is very important in the world of today's absinthe. He was interviewed at Tales of the Cocktail, a conference in New Orleans we here at InAbsinthia surely wish we could be at!ABSINTHE MINDED
The 2006 The International Wine and Spirit Competition was held recently and in the highly competitive Absinthe category, five coveted awards were handed out. The only Gold Medal and the award for best in class went to the Swiss verte, Absinthe Duplais 72%. Four Silver Medals were handed out to:
- Doubs Premium Absinthe 55%
- Jade Edouard 72%
- Jade Nouvelle Orleans 68%
- Combier Blanchette 60%
We have tasted and enjoyed both Jade products and the Blanchette (actually, another Jade family member) here at InAbsinthia. Look for tasting notes on the Eduard coming soon. We are looking forward to trying out both the Duplais and the Doubs. Congratulations to all!
To see the awards on the IWSC web site, click the Awards link at the top, then click on the Spirits category. Here's what they have to say about the Duplais:
Unique, golden/green hue. Slow forming louche had sudden active spurt resulting in thick, almost solid, milk shake finish. Eventual colour was translucent , rich, golden green with amber highlights. The aromas after louche were slow to emerge but built with time into a complex herbal salad. Wormwood and fennel began to establish themselves on the nose with hints of spice lifting above the meld of herbs. Full textured, rich, creamy mouth with outstanding, refreshing taste with substantial fennel and wormwood flavours. Massive power, yet well controlled, long, everlasting finish. Magnificent product.
Also, see this page for more information on the award-winning absinthes:Absinthe Classics - Medal Winners at the 2006 International Wine and Spirit Competition
Here's another misinformed news story from KFMB channel 8 in San Diego, California on the influx of this "banned liquor". Be sure to check out the video clip showing the story from the "Consumer Alert" portion of the newscast. The print story is amusing too:
- I can't even begin to imagine just how bad Mexican "absinth" is. Notice in the video clip how every bottle shown is labeled "Absinth", a dead give away for a very poor absinthe imitator.
- The horrific "burning sugar" ritual is everywhere in this story, with nary a nod towards the real dripping water over a sugar cube method.
- We're told that absinthe tastes like "Yeagermeister" (sic) - jeez, I hope not!
- The sugar ritual makes the "bitter liquor smoother". Again, I don't understand this insistence that absinthe is bitter. None of the absinthes we've drank here at InAbsinthia has even the slightest hit of bitterness.
- Just who the heck is "Earnest" Hemmingway? The star in an Oscar Wilde play?
- They just had to get in the hysteria of thujone (and by implication absinthe) being "linked to stomach problems, convulsions and even death".
- And, again, to call it "banned" in the US is overstating the matter, although we should give them credit for at least mentioning its legality in Europe and Mexico.
In an amazing display of serendipity, we have just come across a recently published scientific study completely debunking the idea of "absinthism":Absinthism: a fictitious 19th century syndrome with present impact
Absinthism was a major reason absinthe got banned at the turn of the 19th century. A specially identified variation on alcoholism, absinthism in particular was supposed to lead to such ailments as brain damage, psychosis and even suicide. Various "studies" were done, many of them with bad or even non-existent scientific rigor, and they supposedly were able to differentiate between a 140 proof liquor containing thujone (the active ingredient in wormwood) and one not containing thujone. Today, most of these studies have been called into question, and there is little support for a specific disease called absinthism.
And while we're at it, here's another wildly inaccurate and exaggerated paragraph from a reference book. This time, it is in the "Wormwood" entry from the Gale Encyclopedia of Alternative Medicine:
Wormwood has a historical dark side: absinthe. This clear green alcoholic beverage, which contains essential oil of wormwood and other plant extracts, is highly toxic and presently banned in many countries. A favorite liqueur in nineteenth-century France, absinthe was addictive and associated with a collection of serious side effects known as absinthism (irreversible damage to the central nervous system). The toxic component of wormwood that causes absinthism is thujone. Wormwood may contain as much as 0.6% thujone. On the other hand, wormwood soaked in white wine is used to produce the liqueur called vermouth (derived from the German word for wormwood, Wermuth), which contains very little thujone. - Wormwood. Belinda Rowland and Rebecca Frey, PhD.
- Gale Encyclopedia of Alternative Medicine. Ed. Jacqueline Longe. Vol. 4. 2nd ed. Detroit: Gale, 2005. p2164-2166. 4 vols.
Ooo, watch out for the "dark side"! This "toxic liqueur" is at it again, with "irreversible damage" to the nervous system, its "addictive" nature and the mythical disease of "absinthism". And vermouth doesn't contain wormwood or thujone, or it too would be a controlled substance like absinthe.
As we've mentioned before, bad information about absinthe abounds, both on the Web and in print. Even many of the web sites you find that sell absinthe and fake absinth (sic) products push inaccuracies as a way to sell bad stuff to unsuspecting buyers. Any site selling absinthe that makes a big point of thujone content is immediately suspect and shouldn't be used. All respectable absinthes have almost no thujone content, and not nearly enough for any effect. Even drinking those terrible Czech concoctions which push their "100mg" of thujone does not actually get you enough for hallucinations to set in before the high alcohol content takes over.
We here at InAbsinthia like to search out and destroy this bad information. Drop us a line if you come across any in your electronic or print journeys. Even respectable pages like The Columbia Encyclopedia are rife with misinformation. Check this out :absinthe. The Columbia Encyclopedia, Sixth Edition. 2001-05
absinthe, an emerald-green, toxic liqueur distilled from wormwood and other aromatics, including angelica root, sweet-flag root, star anise, and dittany, which have been macerated and steeped in alcohol. It was invented by a Dr. Ordinaire, a Frenchman who lived in Switzerland. Genuine absinthe is 70% to 80% alcohol. Because of the harmful effect it has on the nerves, it has been banned in most western countries.
How bad is this? Let us count the ways:
- "toxic" - absinthe in not toxic, as your faithful writers here at InAbsinthia can attest. There has been no reputable study that would indicate otherwise.
- "liqueur" - a common misconception, absinthe is not a "liqueur" (a sweetened, flavored, low alcohol digestif). It is a "liquor", as it is not sweetened, it has a very high alcohol content and is usually an aperitif.
- "angelica root, sweet-flag root, star anise, and dittany" - While there are many different recipes for absinthe, I'm not sure where they got this list of ingredients. As discussed here, nearly all good absinthes use green anise, not star anise (anise gives it the licorice flavor, although more sophisticated palates than ours have said there is a difference between licorice and anise flavors). And the other main ingredients in absinthe are fennel and hyssop. So the list of ingredients found in the definition are unusual, to say the least.
- "macerated and steeped in alcohol" - while this is one method for producing absinthe, it is not considered a "good" one. Most respectable absinthes are distilled like normal liquors, and the herbs are used in the flavoring process.
- "invented by a Dr. Ordinaire" - this story is pretty much discounted by every absinthe historian. It was used as a nice myth to give absinthe some respectability. Jad Adams, in his book "Hideous Absinthe" explains why a myth surrounding a French doctor living in Switzerland was used over the more probable creation by the Swiss medicine woman Henriette Henriod:
Several cultural functions were served when Ordinaire and not Henriod was seen as the originator of modern absinthe: it meant the drink was a product of science rather than folk medicine; it became the creation of a man, not a woman; and if it had been made by a Frenchman only staying in Switzerland then it could be claimed as French, not Swiss. This creation of a culturally acceptable myth was characteristic of the whole long history of absinthe, in which the green fluid accepted whatever desires were projected onto it and combined with them in an opaque, cloudy mix.
- "70% to 80% alcohol" - while some may reach these dizzying heights, most are more like 60% to 70%.
- "harmful effect it has on the nerves" - again, this isn't true in the slightest, despite repeated claims. Absinthe was a victim of the nascent Prohibition movement and became an easy target for bad science and while thujone in very high amounts is bad for you (as are many things), it can't happen via absinthe.
- "banned in most western countries" - it is neither banned nor in most western countries. These days, it is actually legal in many western countries (including all of the European Union), and even where it is controlled, like in the United States, calling it "banned" is an exaggeration. It can't be sold, but it can be possessed, unlike say marijuana or machine guns.
Phew! Wow, makes you wonder exactly how many other bad entries are in this encyclopedia, doesn't it?
As it looks like absinthe is legal in Australia, they are having a Viva la France party in Adelaide that features:
Top French foods, wines and spirits will be offered including absinthe, and Moet and Chandon - real French Champagnes.
It's a party to be held at The Boho Bar this Friday and Saturday. Sounds like fun!
Adelaide was one of our favorite Australian cities. Be sure to check out the pie floaters, a pretty grisly-sounding but actually pretty tasty concoction featuring meat pie covered tomato sauce floating in a bowl of pea soup wonder if it goes with absinthe?The Advertiser: Vive la France
Absinthe, as you may imagine, has a very checkered history when it comes to the law. And it is currently even more confusing, given its long dormant history and vast supplies of misinformation. For instance, here in the US it is illegal to sell or import any drink that contains thujone, a key ingredient in absinthe that comes from the wormwood (Artemisia Absinthium) plant. Thujone is called a "known harmful" ingredient, so the FDA bans its use in food for human consumption, so you can't sell it, but you're allowed to buy, possess it and, yes, even drink it, because the FDA only goes after sellers, not buyers.
But here's a good link with thumbnail sketches of absinthe's legality in many countries and areas around the world. I have been reading some debate about its Canada entry, as even the officials there seem to be confused as to its real status, as opposed to its "I think..." status.Erowid Absinthe Vault : Legal Status
Ask Erowid : ID 2693 : Is it illegal to import absinthe into the US?
A couple of newspaper stories I've only recently come across which are still interesting reading. They date as far back as 2004, yet much of what they cover is apropos today.Reason: The Search for Real Absinthe: Like Tinkerbell, the Green Fairy lives only if we believe in her.
This one, from Reason magazine, is a recap of absinthe's increase in popularity. The writer interviews Jad Adams, who has become something of a de-facto expert on the subject since the publication of his book, Hideous Absinthe: A History of the Devil in a Bottle. I'm reading it now and I can't say as I'm wildly impressed, although the quotes from him in various articles seem reasonable enough. The article also talks about how bad Czech "absinth" is, as well as bringing in the old quote from an absinthe connoisseur, who decries its legalization, and subsequent popularity, as if that detracts from the taste.The Drug Issue: The Absinthe Underground (Seattle Weekly)
This article, from August of 2004, centers on Hiram, who is the proprietor of WormwoodSociety.org. He introduces the writer to absinthe and, again, talks about the bad Czech absinthe (which can be bought in Canada) and its illicit appeal. Both of those story lines can stop now, thank you very much. The article also talks about "HG" absinthe, or home-brewed stuff (the HG comes from the German word Hausgemacht). I'm not sure why home-brewed is so interesting. Perhaps because of its quasi-legality and current expense, but I'd probably stay far away from home-brewed absinthes.
Interesting quickie list of absinthe reviews from the mostly German site Absinthe-Guide.de. A very long list of absinthes are given one of 4 ratings - recommendable (sic), neutral, not recommendable and not rated yet. I have no idea of the quality of the reviews themselves, but they do like our favorite, Nouveau-Orleans and pretty much dislike all Czech brands, so the reviews seem inline with the general consensus. Let us know what you think of their reviews.Absinth Guide - Catalogue
- Eichelberger Verte 68
- Clandestine la Bleue
- Verte Suisse
- Kübler 53
- La Ptite by rank and Montmartre by overall hits
- Segarra 45 by rank, tied with Un Emile 68 by overall hits
- François Guy
Here at Chez InAbsinthia, we've only tried the Nouvelle-Orléans on this list, but we will certainly be trying to taste our way through the rest. Note especially the high ranking Eichelberger, which is a very reasonably priced (for an absinthe) German-made absinthe, and the Montmartre, another value absinthe from Austria.
A good place to start if you are interested in jumping on the absinthe bandwagon (besides here at In Absinthia of course), is to check out the FAQ at Oxygénée's wonderful site, The Virtual Absinthe Museum. The FAQ lists all kinds of interesting facts, figures and history behind absinthe. This history is often mistold and mischaracterized and hasn't yet, I don't think, been done justice in the printed page. But Oxygénée does an excellent job of "just the facts, ma'am", as well as keeping the hyperbole (both pro and con) down to a minimum. In particular, I like this introduction to the entry on the history of absinthe:
Banned for almost a century until its recent revival, absinthe is something of a "living fossil", a coelacanth amongst drinks, able to magically transport us back to the glittering world of Paris and the Belle Epoque, a world of bohemian musicians and writers, of the Moulin Rouge and the cafes of Montmartre, a world of starving struggling artists and glittering courtesans.Oxygénée's Absinthe History & FAQ I
The Devil's Picnic is a recent book by Taras Grescoe, a prolific travel writer from Montreal. In it, he visits various places to try out the forbidden, including the likes of unpasteurized cheese in France (illegal here in the US), bull testicles in Spain and, of course, the "notorious liquor", absinthe. He searches Switzerland for a "true" absinthe. You wouldn't have to search very hard any more, as it is legal to produce there! But I have the book on order and will review it here soon.TorontoSun.com - Lifestyle - Gourmet reading
In a somewhat sensationalist article from the San Diego Union-Tribune, US officials are reported to be "surprised" at the resurgence of absinthe being found at a border checkpoint to Tijuana, Mexico. They've begun "training border inspectors to look for the liquor." and have stepped up efforts to confiscate it at the border. Aren't you glad we're being protected from this insidious drug by our ever-vigilant border patrol?
Of course, the article's author couldn't resist throwing around words like "hallucinations", "brain damage", and "bootleg", while recounting breathless snippets of stories like it causing Van Gogh to cut off his ear and absinthe's "drug-like effects". The writer doesn't do too bad a hash on the thumbnail sketch of absinthe's history, and its subsequent banning throughout most of Europe and in the US, although he can't resist talking about the forbidden allure of thujone, the wormwood-extract chemical said to give absinthe's its special qualities.
I can't believe that they actually make something they call absinthe right in Mexico. And I can't believe people actually try to drink it. It hearkens back to the height of the absinthe "craze" in France, where many dubious mixtures showed up on the market. I also like how an importer of Czech absinth (sic) sniffs at the quality of the Mexican absinthe:
He turns up his nose at the Mexican brands.
"It's awful quality. It's not absinthe," he said. "It's some concoction."
"some concoction" - pretty funny, considering as how many absintheurs consider Czech absinths with equal disdain. We here at InAbsinthia haven't tried one yet, but we do feel it is our duty to lay our palates on the line for you, and will certainly try one in the future. Hey, it is tough work, but someone has to do it. But remember the caveat shown on many automobile commercials - "Closed course with a professional driver".
I also got a chuckle out of the quote from a waiter, who says that after two or three, "you get real relaxed." I'll bet! Another one of our scheduled experiments will be to have more than two or three, to see if you really do get some sort of feeling without actually getting drunk. Hard to believe anything would trump the nearly 70% alcohol of your typical absinthe, but again, we're here to report to you and be "fair and balanced".Absinthe, potent liquor of 1890s' Paris, returns
A particularly fascinating and tragic figure from the height of the Paris Bohemian era, Charles Cros was an inventor, mathematician, and poet. While his poetry mostly languishes in obscurity, he is well known for one poem written about absinthe.
With Flowers and With WomanCharles Cros
With Flowers, and with Women, With Absinthe, and with this Fire, We can divert ourselves a while, Act out our part in some drama. Absinthe, on a winter evening, Lights up in green the sooty soul; And Flowers, on the beloved, Grow fragrant before the clear Fire. Later, kisses lose their charm Having lasted several seasons; And after mutual betrayals We part one day without a tear. We burn letters and bouquets. And fire takes our bower; And if sad life is salvaged Still there is Absinthe and its hiccups.. The portraits are eaten by flames.. Shrivelled fingers tremble.. We die from sleeping long With Flowers, and with Women.
T.A. Breaux will talk at the "Tales of the Cocktail" conference in New Orleans on July 19. Sounds like a lot of fun! Maybe InAbsinthia can make it down there...2006 Tales of the Cocktail
Friday, July 21 Absinthe Discussion Hotel Monteleone 10:30 a.m. $25 Absinthe historian Ted Breaux will lead a discussion of absinthe - from its early beginnings as an herbal tonic, through its immense rise in popularity during the Belle Epoque, until its eventual demise. The discussion will focus on historical and modern aspects of the famous liquor, including the crafting and content of the spirit, as well as modern misunderstandings and myths. Participants will be able to view antique absinthe memorabilia, glassware, bottles, various herbs used in crafting absinthe, and a tasting will be held of Breaux's very own absinthe that he imports from France.
We followed up our tasting of Blanchette by making the only real cocktail that features absinthe. The Sazerac, called "America's First Cocktail", dates back to the 1830s, as discussed on Sazerac.com. Sure, there are other cocktails recipes that use absinthe. Heck you could even write a book about them if you were so inclined. But they are mostly silly concoctions that don't add anything to the La Fée Verte experience. The Sazerac, though, is the real thing.
- .5 tsp Absinthe (we used the aforementioned Blanchette)
- 2oz whiskey or bourbon (we used Maker's Mark bourbon)
- dash Peychaud's bitters
Shake well in a cocktail shaker full of cracked ice and strain into a chilled cocktail glass.
This particular recipe wasn't anything to write home about, really. All we could taste was the bourbon, which meant it was a waste of some good absinthe. We actually used (gasp!) Angostura bitters, and not the real Peychaud's. We should order some online, just for the authentic taste. A more interesting sounding recipe comes from the Wikipedia, which uses a method more often specified of swirling the absinthe around in a glass. It still doesn't sound like there would be enough absinthe to really show up in a cocktail glassful of bourbon, though. Maybe we should also try a more subtle taste, like Dewar's whiskey.