Joined: Apr 11, 2002
From: Aku Hall, Chicago
|Posted: 2007-12-06 1:33 pm  Permalink|
New York Times
December 5, 2007
A Liquor of Legend Makes a Comeback
By PETE WELLS
EARLIER this year, when Lance Winters heard that absinthe was being sold in the United States again for the first time since 1912, he shrugged it off. Then he reconsidered. He'd spent 11 years perfecting an absinthe at St. George Spirits, the distillery where he works in Alameda, Calif., and considered it one of the best things he'd ever made. Why not sell it?
Over the past few months, he must have wished he'd stuck to his first instinct.
The division of the Treasury Department that approves alcohol packaging sent back his label seven times, he said. They thought it looked too much like the British pound note. They wondered why it was called Absinthe Verte when their lab analysis said the liquid inside was amber. Mostly, it seemed to him, they didn't like the monkey.
"I had the image of a spider monkey beating on a skull with femur bones," Mr. Winters said. But he said that the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau thought the label "implied that there are hallucinogenic, mind-altering or psychotropic qualities" to the product.
"I said, You get all that just from looking at a monkey?'"
His frustration came to a sudden end last Wednesday, when he learned the agency had finally granted approval to his St. George Absinthe Verte, the first American-made absinthe on the market in almost a century.
Since the start of the year, at least four absinthes, including two from Europe and one from South America, have been cleared for sale. At the same time, hundred-year-old legends about its ties to murder and madness have been discredited. For years, absinthe's chief appeal has been its shady reputation and contraband status. It was said to have caused artists like Van Gogh to hallucinate. Now that it is safe and legal, will anyone still drink it?
To find out, I tried the two absinthes on sale in New York along with an early sample of St. George Absinthe Verte. And I was astonished by how delicate, gentle and refreshing they were. Astonished in part because of my earlier run-ins with absinthe. There was the Portuguese stuff that looked like radiator fluid and tasted like a mouthful of copper. There was the Czech product that a friend smuggled past customs in a mouthwash bottle. I would have preferred the mouthwash.
Another European brand is "the color of reactor cooling fluid and there's nothing natural about that," said Mr. Winters, who would know. Before turning to alcohol as a full-time job, he worked as an engineer on a reactor on board a nuclear-powered aircraft carrier.
Absinthe aficionados agree that a lot of absinthe isn't very good.
"Before Hurricane Katrina destroyed a lot of my things, I had a very extensive collection of bad absinthe," said T. A. Breaux, a former resident of New Orleans who designed one of the new absinthes, Lucid. Most of Mr. Breaux's bad absinthe is modern, but the taste of absinthe has been problematic for centuries. The word comes from the Greek apsinthion, which means undrinkable. The essential ingredient in absinthe, a medicinal herb called grand wormwood, is profoundly bitter. How bitter?
"Ever take malaria pills?" Mr. Winters asked. "Ever bite into one?"
Mr. Winters had never tasted absinthe when he started making his own. Nor did he hope to sell it. He was just playing. "You know, give a boy a still," he said. He worked from a recipe in a back issue of Scientific American, then adjusted the formula. "It was just a manic obsession with the ingredients that drove me to tweak the formula."
After a few tries, Mr. Winters found that grand wormwood was best used in just the first step of absinthe making, when it is infused into grape brandy along with anise and fennel and then distilled, so its bitterness could be left behind in the still. In the second step, he infused a portion of what came out of the still with lemon balm, hyssop, tarragon and other botanicals, including a much less bitter cousin of grand wormwood. Finally this flavorful infusion is mixed back into the result of the first distillation.
Mr. Breaux, too, muffles the wormwood with fennel and anise. An environmental chemist with access to gas chromatography mass spectrometers, he had analyzed unopened samples of absinthe from before the ban.
"They are just beautiful pieces of craftsmanship," he said. "They were artisanally made with the best herbs and there's just no comparison between that and something that has green dye and absinthe' stamped on the bottle." The two kinds have as much in common, he said, as "a good Bordeaux and a bottle of cheap wine that one buys in a roadside convenience store."
That, more or less, is what I'd say about the difference between the absinthes I cut my teeth on and those produced by Mr. Breaux, Mr. Winters and the Kübler distillery in Switzerland.
I tried each straight (eye-opening, but not for everybody), and diluted with water. The sugar cube of legend is not needed with a skillfully made absinthe, which all of these were.
The Kübler Absinthe Supérieure ($56.99), at 53 percent alcohol, is the easiest to understand. Fans of Pernod and other absinthe substitutes will find the flavors familiar. But while Pernod speaks of anise, Kübler tastes like licorice. It says only one thing, but says it very pleasantly.
With Lucid ($67.99), things get more complicated. Mr. Breaux makes it in a French distillery based on his analysis of vintage absinthes. Besides a bracing dose of fresh anise and a back-of-the-tongue bitterness, on one tasting, I thought I detected asparagus. A second encounter was more minty. Both times, Lucid kept pulling me back in for a fourth, seventh, twelfth sip. It was alarmingly easy to imagine exploring it while a long afternoon slipped away.
St. George, which will cost around $75, is the most layered of the three. Mr. Winters has a history of capturing delicate aromas in a bottle (a vodka of his called Hangar One smells just like mandarin blossoms) and his Absinthe Verte is full of fresh green herbs. Anise and fennel make their scheduled appearance but hardly dominate.
While the United States may be in the throes of an absinthe renaissance, distillers suspect that new bottles will arrive slowly. Absinthe was banned in America in 1912 because of health concerns fanned by some of the same anti-alcohol forces who would later push through Prohibition. Due to a reorganization of the government's food-safety bureaucracy, the ban was effectively lifted before World War II, although it took decades before anybody realized it.
One absinthe that will try to brave the regulators next year is a spirit distilled by Markus Lion in Germany for the performer Marilyn Manson. Called Mansinthe, it is "designed to please newbies as well as long-term absinthe lovers," Mr. Lion said in an e-mail message.
Mr. Breaux has crafted several other absinthes that are sold in Europe, but he and his American importer, Viridian Spirits, are not ready to face the Tax and Trade Bureau again just yet.
"I'm trying to recover my sanity first," said Mr. Breaux. "There's this perception that we opened a door and now anybody can walk in. But it's not like that. It's like everything is still on probationary status."
Jared Gurfein, who founded Viridian, agreed. "There's no question they're watching us," he said. "I'm just not sure what they're watching for. I hope it's not for somebody to cut their ear off."
[ This Message was edited by: tikibars 2007-12-06 13:34 ]
Joined: Dec 03, 2007
|Posted: 2007-12-06 3:03 pm  Permalink|
Because I live on the Kentucky/Tennessee border I run into the same problem trying to get Absinthe, Macadamia Nut Liquor, or even a simple Chardonnay.
Both Tennessee and Kentucky prohibited with felony penalties the shipping of Alcoholic beverages directly to consumers. So until the distributors start carrying Absinthe, it will still be way hard to find in my neck of the woods. If you live in a state with similar restrictions you'll have to start harassing your local liquor stores to carry it. Even then the demand I'm sure will surpass the supply, keeping the prices high. Leave it to the States to limit ones ability to shop around, drive down competitive pricing, and drive up prices.
To see a rundown of why you can't order Absinthe, Macadamia Nut Liquor, or even a simple Chardonnay. on-line in your State go here:
If you think it's ridicules that you can't order your favorate Macadamia Nut Liquor or a simple Chardonnay even with an age check at delivery, go here and support:
[ This Message was edited by: weasel640 2007-12-06 15:07 ]
Joined: Dec 06, 2007
|Posted: 2007-12-06 6:38 pm  Permalink|
the sebor absinthe is great stuff, then probably mari mayans. actually they are both good for getting that buzz. got them from here http://alcopopsonline.co.uk/absinthe.htm
Joined: Mar 24, 2002
From: Ocean Beach, San Francisco
|Posted: 2007-12-06 8:17 pm  Permalink|
It appears that BevMo is selling Lucid. STICKER SHOCK!!
Joined: Aug 10, 2004
|Posted: 2007-12-09 5:29 pm  Permalink|
some links to articles my buddy posted on www.surfguitar101.com
I'm sure most of the info is already common knowledge here.
Joined: May 01, 2007
|Posted: 2007-12-11 10:53 am  Permalink|
On 2007-12-05 11:21, martiki wrote:
We're going to have the distiller over to FI for a Q&A in the near future, when his crazy schedule calms down- should be a good event.
I have a couple of questions if you don't mind passing them along when the time comes.
Joined: Feb 23, 2007
|Posted: 2007-12-11 6:22 pm  Permalink|
I just got my first bottle of Absinthe (Kubler) and now I need glasses. However I'd like to get glasses that are lead-free -- and many of the glasses seem to be crystal. Can anyone recommend lead-free absinthe glasses?
Joined: Nov 06, 2002
From: Hockessin, Delaware
|Posted: 2007-12-12 04:19 am  Permalink|
Here is a neat collection of old absinthe glasses that were made of Uranium glass.
Why are you looking specifically for glass without lead? Is it for safety reasons? If so, Absinthe and most other alcoholic beverages are not capable of extracting lead from a crystal glass in the short time it should be in it. I would avoid storing an acidic beverage like lemonade for a long time in a lead glass pitcher.
Soda-lime glass is far more common (and cheaper) then the lead glass is, so a suitable replacement glass should be inexpensive and easy to find. Look for a footed rocks glass from any glassware outlet and it should make a wonderful lead free absinthe glass.
[ This Message was edited by: captnkirk 2007-12-12 04:33 ]
Joined: Mar 29, 2002
|Posted: 2007-12-12 6:24 pm  Permalink|
St. George Absinthe Verte made a very small sneak peek guest appearance at FI last weekend.
No, don't ask- it's already gone. But it will be behind the bar and ready for action after next week.
You will not see green fairies, but you will love how it tastes.
Joined: Feb 23, 2007
|Posted: 2007-12-12 10:14 pm  Permalink|
Thanks CaptnKirk, I got some lead free crystal glasses from http://lamaisondabsinthe.com/
and looking forward to that St. George Absinthe later this month!
Joined: Nov 06, 2002
From: Hockessin, Delaware
|Posted: 2007-12-13 04:50 am  Permalink|
You seem to have done you research. If I had known, I would have recommended the La Rochère glasses to you because they are good modern copies of absinthe glasses. I didn't because I assumed they were lead glass like the orginals and you said you didn't want lead glass.
I did remember they use the word crystal in the description so I have always assumed they were lead glass. I own a few of their Pontarlier style glasses and I never realized they were not made from lead glass. They do only have about half the weight of one of my antique glasses, but until I had one of each in my hand I just never realized it.
Joined: Jul 07, 2005
From: The Polynesian Port of NOLA
|Posted: 2007-12-21 1:21 pm  Permalink|
Just returned from St. George. I got there at about 10:25 this morning and there was already approximately 150-200 people in line. Bu the time 11 rolled around, the line snaked back out of the parking gates and down the airstrip. I'd estimate there was close to 750, possibly 1000, people in line. With only 1800 bottle available (and many MANY people carrying full boxes (containing 6 bottles) out, I'm sure it'll all be gone before closing today.
The news choppers were flying all around us. A nice slice of popular culture...
"If you can't be a good example -- then you'll just have to be a horrible warning."
Joined: Dec 17, 2004
|Posted: 2007-12-21 2:19 pm  Permalink|
Viccar of Vice
Joined: Mar 29, 2002
|Posted: 2007-12-28 08:52 am  Permalink|
From Craig's List:
"I waited in front of the door to St. George Distillery at the defunct Alameda Naval Station for 4 (count 'em F-O-U-R) days in the freezing wind and cold, waiting for the HISTORIC moment to arrive: the first U.S. distilled absinthe since 1912 available for legal purchase. Alas, the much awaited 11:00AM hour tolled on the 21st of December of the year 2007. The distillery doors flung open, smashing my frozen nose, but I was not deterred! My frost bitten fingers were shaking as I handed over my plastic currency and stuttered "T t t twelve b b b bottles p p p please". At $75.00 USD a pop I could hardly afford this expenditure on my part-time clown income, but I was determined to chase the green fairy until I found doG, or, at least got laid. I hobbled through the warm tasting room past professional drinkers parading themselves as Grey Uniformed Green Fairy Guardians. Bursting through the back door I elbowed my way through throngs of green eyed monkeys hungrily eyeing my clinking cache of TRUTH ELIXER. Out on the desolate, weed choked former jet fighter runway I slammed the trunk of my convertible Falcon Futura closed on 11 bottles. Looking across the bay at the almost sinister skyline of Little Gotham West I slither into the back seat, frozen limbs tingling, heart audibly pounding my rib cage. I pop the cork and release the green fairy. Eschewing proper absinthe preparation I tip my head back and gulp straight from the bottle. Pungent aromas of anise and fennel assault my nostrils as the holy green liquid tumbles down my throat. I feel like I am simultaneously ascending and descending as distilled wormwood wriggles into my brain. I returned to this body 48 hours later and there are no words to explain that I now understand everything. You cannot revisit the revelation, thus I have no need to imbibe the remaining liquid doorway. I am dispensing the opened bottle to strangers, and have randomly scattered the remaining 11 bottles near fairy symbols throughout the Bay Area."
|Suffering Bastard of Stumptown|
Joined: May 09, 2005
|Posted: 2007-12-28 08:58 am  Permalink|
On 2007-12-28 08:52, martiki wrote:
"I waited in front of the door to St. George Distillery at the defunct Alameda Naval Station for 4 (count 'em F-O-U-R) days in the freezing wind and cold, ... The distillery doors flung open, smashing my frozen nose, but I was not deterred! My frost bitten fingers were shaking as I handed over my plastic currency and stuttered "T t t twelve b b b bottles p p p please".
Soft Californians. :|
You want cold? I gotcher cold right here.
Frostbite in Alameda, that I gotta see.