Thursday, December 6, 2007

A Blind Date with the Green Fairy

Lucid Absinthe Superieure, 62% alcohol.

Absinthe [AB-saunt]. The stuff of myths. The muse of artists. The fuel of psychosis. The thing that drove Van Gough to chop off his ear. Celebrated in turn of the century France, banned in twentieth century America, this viridian, anise flavored spirit spiked with the toxic and allegedly hallucinogenic wormwood is now legal in the United States.

I must admit to being caught up in the excitement generated by Absinthe's reentry into the US market for the first time in nearly 100 years. Never mind that much of the mystique is myth and legend. For the real skinny on Absinthe, check with the good people at the Wormwood Society, who will tell you everything you wanted to know about the Green Fairy but were afraid to ask.

There are two genuine Absinthes which are now available in the US:

Kubler is a Swiss absinthe; a blanche, it is white rather than the traditional green. It is available at
Hi-Time Wine in Costa Mesa for $50.

Lucid is a traditional green Absinthe from France. Initially, it was only released in New York, New Jersey and Illinois. However, if you read this blog on a regular basis, you know that I have developed a knack for tracking down hard to get spirits, so I managed to snag a bottle and am here to report my findings. Since I acquired my bottle, I've noticed that Lucid is now listed by Hi-Times as well, for about $60.

Lucid Absinthe comes in a sleek black bottle with what appear to be cat eyes. I must admit, I was made uneasy by the prospect of drinking something that was watching me.

The Preparation

The imbibement of Absinthe, like most things that cause hallucinations, includes great ritual and requires strange paraphernalia.

Here's the process: you pour a glass of Absinthe, then place a slotted spoon on top of the glass. A sugar cube is then placed on the spoon. Slowly, you drip water over the sugar cube, into the Absinthe, until it becomes cloudy throughout. This cloudiness is called the louche and its consistency and color is very important to Absinthe drinkers, who view it similarly to the way a serious espresso drinker views the crema that tops an espresso. The final ratio should be three to five parts water to one part Absinthe.

After reading up on the preparation, I was ready to try it.

The Tasting

Lucid Neat

First I did what you are not supposed to do and sampled the Absinthe neat. Undiluted, the Absinthe had a light green tint and a strong licorice aroma, along with citrus and fruit notes. The taste is also dominated by the anise, like liquid black's an overpowering and syrupy sweet taste. This is definitely in need of dilution.

Lucid Prepared

Now, as noted above, Absinthe drinkers love paraphernalia and use fancy specialty glasses and decorative slotted spoons, but I'm a whiskey drinker, so I don't have any of that. Instead, I used a wine glass and a fork, which seemed to do fine.

Then, the preparation. For my first sampling, I added three and one half parts water over two cubes of sugar, until it reached the desired cloudy consistency. The addition of water revealed a somewhat more complex aroma that could be detected from several feet away. All of the licorice aromas of fennel and anise were there but there were also more herbal scents. The candy taste was gone, though it was still too sweet. As I further diluted the Absinthe, it revealed a subtler anise flavor with a slight bitterness (wormwood?). Even with dilution, the heavy anise numbs the tongue.

As follow ups, I tried several different ratios of water and sugar and found that I liked four parts water to one part Absinthe with one sugar cube. As noted above, I found two cubes too sweet and no sugar produced an overly bitter taste.

At first, I felt the strong licorice taste of Absinthe was unpleasantly overwhelming, but over a week's worth of experiments, I came to recognize some of the subtler botanicals and herbaceous tones that made it quite a nice after-dinner drink. And there was something comforting about its palate numbing qualities.

Overall, my date with the Green Fairy went well. I'm not saying we're jumping into any sort of committed relationship or anything. After all, I'm a whiskey man first and foremost, but I could certainly see becoming life-long friends.

And, just for the record, I can't say I had any hallucinations or an urge to disfigure myself after drinking the Absinthe...though I'm not sure if that's a plus or a minus.

1 comment:

Bon Vivant said...

Did it make you a better artiste?

I read an interesting article about absinthe in the New Yorker a few years back and they said that the only place to get the good stuff is in small villages in Portugal (but it's becoming rarer and rarer.)