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Thursday, October 18, 2007

Absinthe Makes a Legal Comeback!

It's a cloudy green liquid with an equally-foggy past, swirling its way around the artists of olden days, back before absinthe was outlawed - as it has remained for about 95 years.

Well, soon a new era of absinthe may be upon us. Veridian Spirits of New York has figured out how to produce the liquor without the FDA-regulated problems that led to its illegal status. The new version of absinthe is bottled as Lucid Absinthe Superieure and will soon have partners in no-longer-crime. Here's the scoop:

Absinthe gets its distinctive flavor from the herbs anise and fennel, with which it is distilled, and its name from a third herb called grande wormwood (Artemisia absinthium), which contains the compound thujone. The amount of thujone, once considered to cause hallucinations or epilepsy, is regulated in the United States. Lucid's maker found a way to distill Lucid so that it contains less than 10 parts per million of thujone, which the government considers "thujone-free".

So for those of you hard-core absinthers, this loss of thujone-related craziness may mean a loss of interest, since it's no longer the official mind-blowing concoction shared in the past by Hemingway, Degas, Zola, Wilde, Picasso and Van Gogh (it's rumored that absinthe led to the ear-chopping that made him more famous). Still, while the Green Fairy made have lost a bit of the magic it once had, this new generation of absinthe liquors is imbibed in the same traditional magical methods.

For those of you who, like me before reading these articles, don't know anything about absinthe - there is a special method to preparing it for consumption. Fountains are involved. Typically, the rather-strong liquor itself is extremely bitter, containing no sugars in its production. To make up for this, many prepare their drinks in a very specific way. You put your measure of absinthe in the glass (many absinthe-specific glasses have a bulb at the bottom for one ounce of absinthe), and then place a sugar cube on a slotted spoon and pour water over the sugar cube, adding it to the drink until the cloudy concoction is at your specific level of dilution and less-bitterness. Bars used to have water fountains specifically for this purpose (and for preparing multiple drinks, quickly). I've also seen another method, which involves setting the sugar cube on fire and letting the melting sugar drip through the spoon and into the drink. I guess this is for purists who want to sweeten the drink without weakening it with water.

While, like with any illegal substance, underground groups and clubs have been making and sharing original absinthe since its banishment almost 100 years ago, this addition of legal versions is opening the mystique of the green liquor to bars and clubs (like Lumen here in Chicago). Many who plan on stocking these new absinthe bottles have installed classic water fountains. The real wonder is in the new drinks being created by these bars. Many are opting for new-age drinks, like absinthe and Red Bull. A few are paying homage to Hemingway and his "Death in the Afternoon Cocktail" - one ounce of absinthe and adding iced champagne until it reaches the "desired milkiness". There's also a martini drink called "Starry Night" which contains absinthe, Van Gogh Dutch Chocolate Vodka, a simple syrup and star anise floating on top as garnish. Whether it's as sophisticated as that martini or new "absinthe-minded shooters" which are shot glasses with one part absinthe and one part simple syrup, there's a new world of cloudy green alcoholic beverages that will be available for consumption - if you can handle the price.

Lucid is slowly making its way with availability across the country, but bottles are going for $59.99 for each 750-ml bottle. There are a few more producers of newer "thujone-free" versions of absinthe, but bottles are also in the $50-60 range. I don't have any information on what absinthe-inspired cocktails are being priced at, but I would assume it's proportional to the bottles. Expect it to be on the higher end of the price list; after all, the Lucid version is 124-proof!

Please remember to drink responsibly, and always wear safety goggles when burning sugar cubes on slotted spoons over cloudy liquors!

"Got tight last night on absinthe. Did knife tricks." - Ernest Hemingway

(One article about new absinthe)
(Another article, with history and methodology)

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Good information thank you closely monitor your success.