I have been tasting absinthes for a few years now, but have never had a chance to write about them. Now that the trend has practically gone main-stream (I hate being a fashion setter) I thought I would put a few words down, especially as I've got a very interesting sample in front of me right now.
Apart from an odd tipple here and there in Prague and elsewhere in Europe, which was largely disappointing, my first real experience was a lovely Suisse Bleu, bought on line. It reminded me mostly of good Pernod, or Pastis, which I also adore. But the flavor was largely anise. Let me admit from the outset, this is not just alcohol, I don't care what anyone says. Not really hallucinogenic, but mind-altering. Making you both alert, inhibited and drunk at the same time. A fantastic combination if you ask me. Not like being too tipsy when you only think you're being lucid. But wide-eyed clarity.
This first trial was done by the book, with water, sugar cube and the fun spoon. The louche is lovely, but honestly, being a hardened veteran ouzo drinker (it's in my blood) I definitely prefer just ice. Similar louche and nice chilling effect without becoming too dilute. Call me untraditional.
Honestly, absinthe has a much longer history than dissolute Parisian cafes and symbolist poetry. That period has its charms, but it's really the 16th centurty that thrills me. And there are recipes, in pharmaceutical texts, Wecker is a good example, that must be considered if not the ancestors of absinthe, then indeed the real thing avant le mot propre. Or sometimes with the word.
So I've been trying lately to get closer to the ur-absinthe. Not too long ago I bought a "Clandestine" absinthe from the Val du Travers, which was really gorgeous. Tastes truly of wormwood and not anise. I've grown wormwood before, but it is so bitter and nasty, that I'm convinced you really need to know what you're doing to make something palatable out of it - i.e. with a still, not soaked in alcohol (though that was also done for medicines in the past - to purge worms of course).
But today there arrived a Roquette 1797, which claims to be an early form of the drink. What immediately surprised me is not only the lurid neon-green color, but that it doesn't really cloud. Maybe a little after sitting in the glass with ice for a half hour, but not dramatically. More amazing is the bouquet, sort of medicinal, like a Chinese grocery store, with a touch of funk. Absolutely nothing of the sweet anise pastis flavor. This is pure distilled wormwood as far as I can tell, with other minor herbal notes, maybe mint, or savory. Something I can't quite put my finger on. But extremely appealing. At first, it's a whopping 75%, like battery acid. But seriously mellows with the ice melting. But it's still flourescent. And the flavor is more rounded. I swear there's something reminiscent of fish. Not in an unappealing way in the least.
Now you can tell me if I've waxed completely incoherent after a few sips. The effects are immediate and intense.
But before I leave, let me give you a recipe invented over Thanksgiving, using the Clandestine.
Take a shot of absinthe and put it in a flute. Pour over good Brut Champagne, two shots of bitters and a fresh lychee. Called an Opal Eyeball. Killer.