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Now With Wormwood! (Yay?)

So, a #twitterpony told me the other night that absinthe tasted like licorice. This was the first I'd heard of it, so naturally i had to seek some out.

I've always been fairly dismissive of absinthe, it seemed a very posey sort of drink, and I'm not much for hard liquor anyway. But a drink that tastes like licorice? THAT I had to try.

Traditionally, absinthe is served by putting a shot into a glass, then dissolving a sugar cube in a spoon and mixing that in. I didn't have a sugar cube handy, but I did have some sugar packets, and did my best to get the mix right.


*poink* O.o

That's ... some strong stuff. And yes, it tasted just like licorice, except licorice that burned a hole in your esophagus and went shooting out the bottom of your stomach while simultaneously causing the top of your head to explode.

I ended up not finishing the shot. Too much of a much, and I couldn't think of a good way to cut it short of just pouring in more water. But I can at least now say I've tried it, and I can see how, given the right mood, I'd be interested in trying again. But it's not something I'm going to be eager for soon.

-The Gneech


Oct. 25th, 2011 05:35 am (UTC)
Well, I have yet to find a drink that tastes like licorice (varying Scandinavian salmiakki liqueurs aside, which are a thing unto their own), there are plenty of anise flavored liqueurs and spirits:
  • pastis (such as Pernod and Ricard)
  • anisette
  • ouzo
  • sambucca (which is flavored with anise and elderflower)

Absinthe is another whole world. Traditionally flavored with green anise and wormwood (for bitterness), it's almost always loaded with a bunch more spices, herbs and other botanicals. There's usually enough anise to drive off people who hate licorice, but in a decent absinthe it's not the strongest flavor note.

Putting packets of sugar in absinthe isn't going to do anything other than leave sugar on the bottom. The alcohol concentration is so high crystalline sugar isn't going to want to dissolve.

The classic "bohemian" French preparation of absinthe is in a large (5-6 oz) tapered glass. Pour in 1 oz of absinthe. Put a sugar cube on a slotted spoon balanced over the glass. Drip very cold water (about 4-5 oz) very slowly through the sugar cube and slotted spoon into the glass. When finished, tip the sugar cube in and stir it up with the slotted spoon.

Yeah, it's a bit pretentious. But it avoids the exposure to straight absinthe, which is murderously flammable.

It turns out the sugar cube was to cut the bitterness of cheap absinthe with a lot of wormwood. Good absinthe still requires the water in the same ratio, but doesn't require the sugar. Very cold and very slow are not necessary but are desirable; you get a very pretty effect as the oils in the absinthe "louche" (come out of solution and into suspension, clouding the mixture) as the alcohol concentration and temperature drop.

Burning sugar cubes was a thing early 90's Prague bartenders used to sell Czech absinth (note the lack of "e," it lacked anise but was hopped up on wormwood) to Ivy-league fratboys who were exploring the former Soviet satellites during spring break because Florida was cracking down. Anything that's improved by adding sugar ash isn't good.

And, as it turns out, the good historic absinthes didn't have that much wormwood, only enough to give a hint of bitterness. Most of the absinthe hysteria about the psychoactive properties of wormwood was overblown propaganda by competing beverage industries.

There are some decent Swiss (Kubler), French (Lucid, Pernod) and German (I don't know any brands off-hand) absinthes available in the US. Czech and Spanish are atrocious in entirely different ways. La Tourment Vert from South America comes in a very pretty bottle, but looks and tastes like Scope.

Tempus Fugit (out of Novato, north of SF) imports a few very nice European absinthes, including Duplais, Emile Pernot and (the absurdly Marilyn Manson branded, but actually quite nice) Mansinthe.

The good domestic absinthes are excellent. TF's Pacifique is quite good, as is Absinthe Marteau from Portland's House Spirits Distilling. My fave is from St. George Spirits in Alameda, only a 50 minute drive from San Jose and FC. Their tour is fun.

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