Welcome to the absinthe project L' absintheur.

Incorporating the Absinthe Review

 

Boche had known a joiner who had stripped himself stark naked in the Rue Saint-Martin and died doing the polka - he was an absinthe drinker.

Emile Zola

I'd love to share my absinthe with Rose McGowan

It should be so lucky. By appearing in the film “Moulin Rouge” Kylie Minogue, has probably done more than any barman, painter or poet to promote it and enhance its reputation, and there have been many of all three who have tried. Bars in London are serving it straight and in cocktails. It is the voice of the new bohemians. Hillary Clinton was snapped drinking it. Though banned in its traditional homeland after seemingly driving a number of people mad and, allegedly, causing van Gogh to cut his ear off, the scourge of the 19th Century, the Green Fairy, absinthe is back.

Just to put you in the know, Absinthe (Czech: absinth, Spanish: absento) is a strong herbal liqueur distilled with a number of herbs usually including anise, licorice, hyssop, veronica, fennel, lemon balm, angelica and wormwood, and was notoriously favoured by artist and poets such as Oscar Wilde, Vincent van Gogh, Paul Verlaine and Arthur Rimbaud, who spent part of his young life in Cyprus working and, perhaps, drinking absinthe. It is banned in France, but is available in the UK, the Czech Republic and Spain. With an alcohol content of at least 60% and a high content in essential oils, its taste is strong and bitter and the best way dull its bitterness is by mixing it into cocktails or adding caramelised sugar and ice cold water to it. Some people would rather ignite lighter fuel in their face then slap on a bottle of cologne than drink it, however. You could say it’s an acquired taste.

Absinthe was created by a Frenchman, Dr Ordinaire, in Switzerland as a tonic. It was even drank in large quanities by French soldiers, to prevent fever. Ordinaire sold his original recipe, and it was eventually acquired by Henri- Louis Pernod, though sadly Pernod no longer make absinthe, reinventing the recipe without the traditional main ingredient, wormwood, to produce their trademark drink.

This reinvention is common. Where it has become unavailable absinthe has been reinvented in a milder form. Ouzo, the aniseed based drink that is so popular in these parts, Pernod and Ricard are famous examples of pastis. The name comes from the word pastiche signifying an imitation or re-conceptualisation of a classic, in this case of absinthe.

Wormwood of course is the essential ingredient. Whilst the other ingredients, particularly the anise, liquorice and fennel produce the aniseed flavour and the louche (the clouding effect once water is added, similar to that of ouzo, but absent from many Czech brands of absinth), wormwood gives the drink its oomph, and its bitterness. Wormwood also contains the chemical thujone, similar in structure to THC, a psychoactive chemical found in cannabis, and when administered in large enough doses, it is known to cause, amongst other things, epileptic fits in lab animals. In smaller doses, thujone has very mild psychoactive properties. Most absinthe available nowadays contains less than 10ppm thujone, a tiny proportion, probably, compared to what the poets of the last century where downing.

And though these poets extolled the inspirational properties of the drink they dubbed the “Green Muse”, and artists everywhere loved to paint its opalescence, popular opinion soon turned against it, citing the “Green Demon” as the catalyst for a catalogue of sins.

And so it was for many decades, that absinthe apparently only survived in dictionaries and 19th Century art.

So why has the tide turned? Perhaps because people have realized that “absinthism” was merely alcoholism dressed in opal green, and that the drinker, not the drink is more often responsible. Perhaps it was because the newly re-declared Czech Republic urgently wanted to promote its produce. Perhaps, simply, a few people dared to be different. All one can say is “Vive la difference”. Good quality absinthe, mixed with caramel and water is a truly sinful pleasure. And well worth trying. After all, there’s more to life than scotch.

At least one website claims that absinthe is a “Guaranteed Aphrodisiac”. Reportedly the best Absinthe is La Fee. It is nearly 70% ABV, has a reportedly high thujone content (although unlike some Czech brands, stays within the EU maximum of 10 ppm), is very expensive and is available from Heathrow airport. Mari Mayans (Spain) is also considered good. Most Czech brands are quite bitter, if you like that kind of taste. Hapsburg Red (Bulgaria) has probably the highest alcohol content at 85%. Logan 100 has, reportedly 100ppm of thujone, closer, probably to what Rimbaud and co were drinking. Try them at our own risk.

Further reading ( I have tried to include a balanced collection of websites) :

After the first glass you see things as you wish they were. After the second, you see things as they are not. Finally, you see things as they really are, and that is the most horrible thing in the world.

Oscar Wilde

 

A review of a selection of available brands

 

Hills Absinth is perhaps the best known of the Czech brands. It has a pleasant enough taste, especially when poured over sugar or mixed with caramel, and at 70% ABV is pretty strong, which means that adding water is pretty much essential.

But it falls short on one major count- with a thujone content of just 2ppm, it simply isn't the real thing.

It may be fashionable, but I doubt that Rimbaud would have cared much for it. 

 

Staroplzensky is a Czech brand. It is strong and extremely bitter.You will need to add water, and, perhaps, sugar, but it gives no louche.

Absinthe Trenet is a pleasant tasting brand that is made in France. It gives a decent louche when water is added, and does contain a small amount of wormwood extract. It has 60% ABV-strong enough. However, it seems to be more of an intereting variant on pastis than a real absinthe. 

 

La Fee is also French, but is reputed to be one of the best and most genuine brands of absinthe, staying true to the original recipe. It has a thujone content of 10 ppm, the EU maximum, but a comparatively lower alcohol content than most other brands. It can be bought on mail order or from the Caviar house, if you're ever at Heathrow airport.

Logan Fils Absinthe is one I haven't tried yet. It's made to the Swiss recipe, with plenty of wormwood and no artifical colourings and could claim to be one of the more genuine brands around, but it is almost prohibitively expensive, and I doubt that it would be legal in Europe.

Logan also produce a cheaper, EU- standard version.

 

Hapsburg Red is a strong (85% ABV) Bulgarian brand. I haven't opened my bottle yet, but have read that it gives a slight louche  and has a good enough taste. Like Trenet though, it does contain artificial colourings.

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