Sunday, January 6, 2008
I Wish They All Could be California Absinthes: St. George Absinthe
The recent, highly publicized decision to allow real Absinthe into the US market led to the almost immediate availability of two imports. Kubler, from Switzerland and the French Lucid, which I reviewed last month. Now, the first domestic Absinthe has entered the market and it's a gem hailing from right here in the Golden State.
St. George Spirits, the Alameda based distillery that makes Hanger One Vodka, fruit brandy and even a single malt whiskey now gives us St. George Absinthe Verte.
The bottle features a vicious looking monkey holding a human femur and a bell. (What is it about Absinthe and animals?). Apparently, the monkey image caused some problems; as the New York Times reported, the original image of a monkey and a human skull caused the very prickly Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau concern that it “implied that there are hallucinogenic, mind-altering or psychotropic qualities” to the product. I know that when I see a monkey on something, I assume it has psychotropic qualities.
St. George Absinthe is a brandy based spirit (60% alcohol) which is flavored with star anise, mint, wormwood, lemon balm, hyssop, meadowsweet, basil, fennel, tarragon and stinging nettles (ouch).
I tried several combinations of the Absinthe with sugar and water, and also tried it side by side with Lucid. In general, when tasting Absinthe, I've found that sugar brings the licorice flavor to the fore and subdues the bitterness of the wormwood, so the amount of sugar you want to add will depend on the flavor profile you seek. I like a moderate amount of sugar to retain some of the wormwoody bitterness, but occasionally sip my Absinthe sugar-free, which is about as refreshing a drink as there is.
St. George Absinthe is a beautiful green, the shade of a fine olive oil. The Louche that forms when water is added is a cloudy green, as opposed to Lucid's pale white cloud.
St. George has a slightly more medicinal character than Lucid, with more herbal notes, including the wormwood bitterness, and less sweetness. While Lucid is smoother, St. George is more complex, possibly due to the number of herbs used in its distillation. Even for Absinthe, which is not a shy spirit, these are big, powerful flavors.
While I enjoyed Lucid very much, I have to say I prefer St. George because of this added complexity. The good people of Alameda have done our state proud.
St. George Absinthe is new on the market and pretty hard to find. I was able to snag the last bottle on the shelf at Silverlake Wine for around $70, but I'm sure it will become more available in the future.
And, if you're thinking of getting into the Absinthe habit, Silverlake Wine has good prices on Absinthe glasses, which have a bulb to show how much Absinthe to water to pour ($15) and decorative slotted Absinthe spoons, for pouring water through your sugar cube. ($12-15). These trinkets are fun but certainly not necessary to your Absinthe enjoyment.