"Absinthe makes you crazy and criminal, provokes epilepsy and tuberculosis, and has killed thousands of French people. It makes a ferocious beast of man, a martyr of woman, and a degenerate of the infant, it disorganizes and ruins the family and menaces the future of the country." (ref)
I started learning about absinthe when my mother's business partner brought back a few bottles of "the real stuff" from the Czech Republic. It was slightly better than window wiper fluid and about the same color. Recently I got more and more interested in absinthe and brought together a few bottles for a tasting.
Before my tasting I got a chance to speak with Andy Young and Joe Pawelski, makers of Trinity Absinthe. From them I learned more about this strange green drink and found that tasting like windshield wiper fluid is as far from the mark as possible. These producers started making absinthe because of the allure and the flexibility of taste that absinthe allows.
Absinthe is a beverage that uses a base alcohol, either a grain, beet, potato or white grape spirit, and then adds distilled botanical elements, in much the same way as gin. Only with absinthe the ingredients tend to be anise, fennel, and of course wormwood, the plant that supposedly induces the insanity so often associated with absinthe. The active ingredient in wormwood is Thujone, which was once thought to cause absinthe drinkers to see hallucinations, experience epilepsy, as well as an additional long list of symptoms. Modern science has proved that high doses of Thujone will produce some of these symptoms in lab mice. However, it has been proven unlikely that these symptoms could have been caused by this chemical in absinthe.
Once the distillates have been combined the resulting liquid is then steeped in additional herbs to release chlorophyll, which is what gives the finished product its green color. A naturally colored absinthe will eventually turn brown in the sun or even in your cellar. This is a natural progression of the liquid, just as red wine will become lighter or white wine darker with age.
Armed with more knowledge and information, I started my absinthe tasting. At first I tasted the absinthe neat, without the traditional ice water and sugar. The result was horrifying. Wine Post Contributor Mike Feldman said, "I wouldn't serve that to my enemies."
So, I began going about it the proper way. Over a glass I put a sugar cube in a strainer (lacking a "absinthe spoon." As my mother would say, it's like a sail boat screw. $4 at a sailboat shop and $0.50 at the hardware store). I then dripped iced water over the cube to melt it and mix in with the absinthe, which then became cloudy as the mixture separated in the glass. This resulted in a much more pleasant drink, which is how I evaluated the below absinthe's:
Lucid - opaque grass green liquid, anise and licorice, with a little bit of herbal tea. This one was not my favorite, but it was also not offensive. The bottle is also very recognizable.
Vieux Carre Absinthe Superior- more translucent, a little orange citrus mixed with anise, eucalyptus and a mineral background. I also found the packaging to be very interesting, although impossible to photograph (see below).
Pernod Aux Plantes d'Absinthe Superieure - Bright neon green! Really over the top green, which makes sense since on the bottle it says, "certified colors and FD&C Yellow #5 added." Not sure if it came out in the taste, as all I got was licorice, but it certainly shocked me to see.
Can you guess which of the below is the Pernod?
Disclosure: Wine Post received samples from each of the producers listed above.