I love-love-LOVE Absinthe! I had only read accounts of la fee verte and when I discovered absinthe was coming back to America I was eager to partake. Scouring every liquor store in Manhattan, I found one where I could pre-order four bottles. Good thing too as the day Lucid arrived, it was sold out city-wide in less than fifteen minutes! It was love at first taste!
Immediately I set out to ‘educate’ my palate, in search of the perfect absinthe (I found it! But more on that later). I have spent well over a thousand dollars on various absinthes in an effort to teach myself what to look for, what to taste for and to indulge the truly sublime tradition of drinking absinthe.
Warning, I am a bit of a snob but I think with all the bottles I have consumed (and discarded) I have earned the cred to be snooty about my doses. Before I share my impressions of various labels, I humbly offer some additions to Narcisse’s brilliant article above.
One of the most wonderful appeals of absinthe is the ritual. The steps listed in Narcisse’s blog post on “How to Imbibe” are absolutely de rigeur. However I would add one additional sub-step, “3a” if you will.
3a. As the icy water drips through sugar and spoon, relax and enjoy conversing with your fellow imbibers. This is a special time for pleasant socializing as the eyes are treated to the hypnotic swirls of opalescent mystery and the nose is regaled by the fragrance of released herbal magic. Truly, absinthe is an indulgence of the senses.
Some tips on purchasing absinthe. Do your research! Absinthe is one of the most expensive alcohol treats around – averaging $80/bottle with the premiums running well over $100. The most I have paid is $130 for a bottle of Jade Nouvelle-Orleans (worth it). The least I have paid is $40 (not worth it!). The good news is that you do not always get what you pay for! Some lower priced absinthes outperform some of the higher end labels. However, it is a disappointing evening spent pouring a $100 bottle of mouthwash down the drain. So read up, talk to absinthe drinkers, get a sense of what people are saying and dive in.
Another tip for buying absinthe, liquor store owners may know wine and other spirits, but few can speak with any helpful level of knowledge about absinthes. Here is where online resources are your best tool. Websites like the Wormwood Society and La Fee Verte are invaluable.
As for equipment, I personally recommend Absinthe on the Net. Not only do they offer an excellent selection of fountains, glasses and spoons at reasonable prices, they provide terrific customer service.
Some additional quick tips. The act of adding water to absinthe is the louche or louching. It is one of the most distinctive elements of absinthe. I never tire of watching the clear peridot liquid of pure absinthe slowly become an opalescent, milky translucent cloud. This is the reaction of ice cold water releasing the herbal oils within the liquor. A glass of absinthe is traditionally referred to as a ‘dose’, a nod to its tonic properties. Finally, two myths to dispel – Never ever set the sugar cube on fire. This is a modern contrivance and is the worst part of Coppola’s Dracula! It is insipid drama that ruins absinthe. Only fools set fire to the green fairy! And as for the green fairy herself, it is a poetic license. You have no more chance of hallucinating on absinthe than you do with bourbon or vodka. This nonsense about ‘high thujone content” is a marketing ploy. Thujone is the supposed ‘bad actor’ chemical in Wormwood. Read this FAQ. Only fools consume absinthe based on thujone content.
Now on to my thoughts about various labels! I will begin by concurring with Narcisse in her excellent evaluations of the brands above, especially Meadow of Love, La Clandestine and Obsello. I digress with her on Marteau and St. George. I was not that impressed by St George, thinking it too medicine-like for my palate and was happy to let other’s consume the remains of my bottle after three doses (to give it a proper chance). As for Marteau, this was my favorite and go-to absinthe for a very long run. I love it with sugar at a 3/1 ratio. It is possesses a delightfully aggressive wormwood taste and as such, I don’t suggest it as a first time experience. Note, absinthes change considerably with dilution level, what you loathe at 3/1 you may love at 6/1, so experimenting is a must. Generally 4/1 is about average for most absinthes and a good starting point.
Absinthes to try
- Lucid. My first love. Lucid was my first and therefore will always hold a place in my heart beyond its charms. A great introduction to Absinthe (there are better for the price), the best element of Lucid is that it is widely available in liquor stores. It has a definite “Good n’ Plenty’ taste if you overdo the sugar. It is also on the low side of costs, usually in the $70 range. Recommended!
- La Fee. This is the ‘official’ absinthe of La Musee de l’Absinthe in France. Wow with credentials like that it MUST be good right? WRONG! I think it was the radioactive green hue that was the first warning. Looks like Scope mouthwash in a fancy bottle. This is awful, awful stuff. Worse, after imbibing it I suffered some of the worst headaches ever. This one went down the drain. AVOID!
- Walton Waters. Ah, Walton Waters, the companion to Meadow of Love. Crafted in the Catskills by Delaware Phoenix, this absinthe is an absolute wonder. Cheryl Lins has crafted one of the tastiest most rewarding absinthes of all. It is a bit bolder than her other offering, Meadow of Love. Among devotees WW is considered the ‘male’ to MoL’s ‘female’. I cannot think of a more apropos comparison! Love this absinthe, but it is not my all-time favorite. Highly Recommended!
- Vieux Pontarlier. This is a delicious, ‘old-school’ traditional absinthe. Very refreshing and a great benchmark for assessing absinthes. Given the choice of providing someone Lucid or this as an introduction to absinthe, Vieux Pontarlier wins hands down. Honestly, if I had the space in my liquor cabinet, this would always have a home. Highly Recommended!
- La Clandestine. Wonderful blanche that makes for a light refreshing treat on a hot humid afternoon.
Absinthes to avoid
- Kubler 57. Nothing special, poor aftertaste. AVOID, only because there is better to be had.
- Le Tourment Verte. This is the absolute foulest substance ever to bear the name absinthe. Think gangrenous minty mouthwash and you have an idea of this filth. Punch anyone in the face – hard – if they suggest you try this, as they are certainly no friend to you!
- Vieux Carre. Ok, I think here is another easy rule to follow, the fancier the bottle, the nastier the absinthe. “A” for packaging and marketing a “D-“ for delivery. Avoid.
I could go on, but really if you are interested in Absinthe your best bet is to find a friend like me and ask to try it! We absinthe drinkers love sharing the experience, it’s more than half the fun!
I will end with a positive note. After spending a great deal of money and time tasting both delicious and horrible concoctions, I have settled upon three absinthes that are perpetually stocked in my liquor cabinet:
Walton Waters. Yes, it is THAT delicious! I take my doses with a single cube of sugar and sometimes none at all. I prefer it 3/1 and can get quite carried away if I am not careful! So so yummy!
Finally, my ultimate treat, the best of all absinthes in the world in my opinion (so far) – Meadow of Love!
Ah, my mouth waters at the thought of this delightful absinthe. Read any review (they all agree) this is certainly top of the list absinthe. In my opinion, this is the absinthe to beat and quite frankly, I have stopped trying. My favorite, I drink it 3/1 without sugar. None is needed, this absinthe is perfection. Therefore, it should be little surprise that Meadow of Love is the most frequently replaced bottle in my cabinet. Luckily it is not a bank breaker! This nectar can be yours for under $90. The downside is that it is produced in small batches and sells out quickly. I tend to order in pairs, but one day, one blissful day, I hope to possess a case! Although it won’t last very long!