|Absinthe Makes the Heart Grow Fonder|
Five months ago the United States of America lifted the 96-year-old ban on absinthe, what used to be one of the most popular drinks in the world. Absinthe, also known as "The Green Fairy" is an anise-flavored liquor (think Greek Ouzo or Italian Sambuca) distilled from herbs, including wormwood, which contains the hallucinogenic drug for which it was initially banned all those years ago. It is now being sold in the U.S. "Prohibition is over!" (Above, left: mr_dowg becomes my green fairy after our third glass.)
Having been overseas, I was familiar with absinthe. I was also familiar with the Uniform Code of Military Justice which forbade me to drink it, else I fail one of those rare, but ever-present 'drug tests' in which absinthe would play its part. Therefore, it had never before touched my lips. More recently - the bohemians in Moulin Rouge came across an embodiment of the green fairy, as did (my personal favorite) four American teens partying in Bratislava in EuroTrip. Hilarity always ensues. Reality, or dramatization? That's what I set out to discover after I read Deb's (from DebsWorld) review of her first taste of absinthe. She was my inspiration for uncorking my first bottle of The Green Fairy.
Absinthe is not supposed to be served straight. There is a very specific ritual surrounding it, up to and including some unique hardware back in the day - fountains of ice water to deliver pre-measured drops - preferably over a sugarcube which rests on a slotted spoon. Absinthe is far too strong and far too bitter to drink without having first cut it in this manner. The generally accepted rule is from 3:1 to 5:1 ratio. Hemingway, however felt differently. He cut his with champagne. I bought two bottles of spumante (thinking the sweeter the sparkling wine, the better the replacement for sugarcubes) and yes, an ice cold can of Monster along with the bottle of Lucid for some green-on-green action! Yeah baby!
Of course cutting ANY liquor with champange brought back memories of my introduction to French 75:
somebritinmass had turned me on to "French 75" a drink composed of 1-part gin and 4-parts champagne. He warns me though, "It's got quite a kick, so be careful." We sit to watch BSG and I make three, one for myself, and one each for catttitude and galinda822...who don't care for them. So I drink them all. And pass out on the couch. The next evening, I try a new drink. It's called WATER. And oh, what a sweet drink that is. From this point forward, I will never mix gin and champagne.
But mixing it with absinthe would be okay. Right? Hemingway named his drink, "Death in the Afternoon." That sounds harmeless doesn't it? Just in case, we made our first ones with Monster. Later, I discovered that this is called a 'fairy bomb' and is actually available pre-mixed as an energy drink!!! (Not in the U.S. obviously.)
I'm not a fan of licorice-flavored alcoholic drinks, but through the procecss of louching, that is, when water or ice is added to to the absinthe, which is tranlucent, it turns opaque; this is due to the oil of anise being soluble in alcohol but not in water (or champagne as it turns out!) Diluting the spirit causes it to separate creating an emulsion and unleash other flavors which would normally be hidden by the overbearing licorice flavor. I'm unsure how to properly articulate this, but while I was expecting a young-man's flavored liquor, what I experienced was a very complex, very mature taste. I was overwhelmed with how good this really was, and centuries of comprehension dawned on me by the time I finished my first glass. Yes you could smell the licorice, but it begged to be tasted - getting lost in the swirling milkiness of the louched drink. And at $65 a bottle (which I don't even spend on a bottle of Scotch) this is truly a sipping beverage. HOWEVER - since mr_dowg's brazen challenge I have a feeling we're going to use the history and power of absinthe as our baseline and make him beg for buttermilk!
Lucid is made with wormwood, but with levels of thujone (the chemical which was thought to have been responsible for the hallucinations) just below what the Food and Drug Administration consider illegal. Oddly enough, *real* French absinthe (though it is of Swiss origins by a Frenchman living in Switzerland or so the myth goes) also contains very low levels of this drug - and due to its extremely sparse concentration in absinthe, the original 'hallucinations' were likely caused by the drink itself which is bottled at a much higher proof than most other liquors. Experts say the sheer amount of alcohol would poison you to death before the level of thujone reached any toxicity. And as far as I can tell, Lucid is the only real absinthe being sold legally in the United States - other's being vodka-based mixtures, or wormwood-added extracts without the anise distillation (thanks to Julie from Anna Fine Wine & Spirits for pointing me in the right direction!) I found reference to a Verte Suisse which, at $170 a bottle is supposedly better than Lucid but has to be ordered online. I'll save the $105 and drink Lucid.
For authenticity's sake I have refused to work on this post unless I was actually drinking absinthe - which is working out really well for me! I spent one day researching, one day collecting pictures, and two days 'experiencing' The Green Fairy while writing this entry. There have been those who have accused me recently of having no life. They obviously don't know me at all. I can't imagine anything else I'd rather be doing. My life is, in a word, perfect. So if some paragraphs come off as disjointed, you know where to lay the blame. Won't you come and join me for a glass of absinthe?
As mentioned earlier, adding cold water (over a sugar cube, for bitterness) releases the other flavors while simultaneously making for an aromatic experience. Its hard for me to explain how little I like anise-flavored drinks, yet how much I find myself enjoying absinthe. At any rate, because different herbs are released at different levels of solubility, the standard is to start at a 3:1 ratio and move toward 5:1, else all the flavors are release simultanously. And while I've only ever cut my absinthe with spumante sparkling wine (excepting my first, having been cut with Monster) I cannot imagine I would want to dilute my absinthe with any thing other than another alcohol. Seriously - what would be the point? Of course I'll do it once, with mr_dowg who's probably already ordered a set of absinthe spoons and an absinthe glass or two (which contain a 1oz. 'bubble' in which to hold the proper amount of absinthe prior to adding your mixer. Julie provided me with two martini glasses which were etched with a 1oz. line for my expermentation. She did join the Anna Texas Forum, but failed to have a shot of absinthe with me prior to me leaving the store...)
There are those who will be drawn to it because of its sordid history, and those who enjoy trying something new. Some have already mocked me for wanting to try it, and others don't want to have to pay its rather steep price. That's fine - I can only tell you firsthand about myself. As one who *actually* goes out and experiences different things, I wasn't going to let this opportunity pass me by. I did not think it would be as good as it is, and frankly I'm now a convert. I love the stuff. As a scotch drinker I'm impressed with its complexity, and as a gin drinker I'm impressed by its refreshing flavor. Don't discount it just because you've seen a movie where people have gotten stupid on it - it was the world's most popular drink for a reason, and that reason I can now say with absolute authority, is because its that good.
As swasbuckler332 quoted the other day, "This happy ending is bullshit! When does the green fairy get laid? I'm outta here!"