Monday, August 23, 2010


I celebrated my birthday about a week and a half ago. In the weeks leading up to it, my parents were trying to decide what to get me. I sent them a list of stuff on my wish list, but I also told them that there were a bunch of spirits that I wanted as well--things that I've wanted but couldn't work up the nerve to spend money on right now. Things like 15 year single malt scotch, Hendricks gin (I've been meaning to develop a taste for gin and I've been hearing good things about this one,) and a premium tequila (Patron or Don Julio for example.)

I spoke to my dad on the phone before my birthday and he told me that they didn't have a chance to swing by the liquor store and that he would send me a check. Perhaps they didn't have time to do it, or perhaps they didn't want to encourage what can best be described as my enthusiasm towards alcohol--at least not directly. The check comes and I weigh my options. When considering things to buy, I wanted to make sure that I made my spending count. What was something I've always wanted but never had the wherewithal to get. It hits me: Absinthe.

Absinthe is one of those spirits of legend and myth. It has a sexy mystique to it due in part to its ban in the United States in 1912. The controversy was around a chemical compound called thujone that is alleged to have hallucinogenic properties. The ban was lifted in 2007, but with a caveat: U.S. imports can only contain a maximum thujone of 10 parts per million. An article was printed around then in Time Magazine that shed a little light on the subject.

Since the ban was lifted, I was excited about being able to try absinthe. After doing some research, I decided to go with a brand that seemed reputable--Lucid. I was hoping to get a bottle that seemed more old-timey and vintage looking. You know, something that you might find in your grandparents attic. A relic that was previously undiscovered. But as it stood, Lucid comes in a big dark green bottle with ominous feline eyes at the top. It's pretty badass in its own way. At 62% alcohol, it definitely packs more of a punch than most of the other liquors on my shelf at home. The section of the store the bottle was in also contained several different types of absinthe, varying in color, price and alcoholic content.

One tools necessary for the appropriate preparation of absinthe is a slotted absinthe spoon. They come in a wide range of different designs but share some features in common. The heads are flat with little holes to allow liquid to easily pass through them and they are large enough to rest comfortably on the rim of the glass. "How cool," I thought, "to have one of these spoons with which to prepare my absinthe. I suppose I'll have to improvise with a regular spoon or something." However as soon as I had this thought, I noticed that the bottles of Lucid behind the first bottle had something sticking out of them. I inspected and, much to my surprise, each of them came with their own absinthe spoon. I feel like I'm part of a community now. A community of spoons.

The traditional French way to serve absinthe is to pour 1 oz. of absinthe into a small glass, place the absinthe spoon on top of the rim, place a sugar cube on top of the spoon and slowly drip 3-4 oz. of ice water on the cube, dissolving the sugar into the drink. The drink will then turn a bit cloudy. That is just the anise and other herbs coming out of the drink. The bottle itself recommended that we use 1.25-1.5 oz. of absinthe to 5 oz. water but I figured I would heed my research.

An alternate way of preparing the absinthe--which is less authentic but more fun to watch--is to soak the sugar cube with absinthe, set it on fire for a moment, dump it into the absinthe then extinguish with a shot of ice water. It tastes roughly the same but a tad more caramelized and with the satisfaction of setting something on fire.

The taste was as you would expect, licorice and sweet, and it had a nice cloudy green hue. As far as hallucinations, I think that the effects are largely exaggerated...and the purple gremlin dancing next to me concurs. Since we only drank a total of 1 oz. of absinthe a piece, we were not feeling buzzed from that drink alone. Diluting it with water brought the alcohol down to a manageable level.

The allure of absinthe lies not in its physiological effects, but in the concept itself. it taps into a much larger idea. It harkens back to another time and place--one with great artists and intellectuals. A dreamlike state that can be perceived with total clarity. There's something that seems a little dangerous about it too. Absinthe represents all of these things and should be enjoyed with that in mind.


All That I'm Eating said...

This is really interesting! I think getting taste buds for gin is definately a good thing.

gcamerhist said...

That absinthe looks like it packs a punch. Enjoy. Happy Birthday!

Anonymous said...

I`ve always wanted to try absinthe too...perhaps I`ll follow your lead and ask for some for my b-day...happy belated to you! Theresa

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