Absinthe Makes the Heart Go Thump, Thump, THUMP (Part 1)

Absinthe Verte

You’ve all heard the commotion about the once illicit spirit, absinthe, not only being legal again, but even being made domestically in the good ol’ Bay Area.

Absinthe had been illegal since 1912 because of supposed health concerns. It was thought that the chemical thujone, which is found in the herb wormwood (used in the making of absinthe), affected the brain. But that view has largely been debunked.

With so many afternoons at the keyboard already leaving me feeling brain dead at times, I thought I’d give it a shot. Admittedly, as someone who is far from fond of black licorice, I was both wary yet curious to try the spirit that the U.S. Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau made legal again in 2007.

Turns out my first experience with the Green Fairy was all wrong.

Last year, Yankee Pier at Santana Row in San Jose started featuring Absinthe Verte made by Alameda’s own artisan distillery, St. George Spirits. A small sherry-size glass came to the table. The moment it was set down in front of us, I could smell the powerful herbal, anise aroma. The Absinthe Verte was served straight up. After seeing old movies where water is slowly dripped over a sugar cube into the green tea-colored spirit to temper the bitterness of the wormwood, I wondered if I shouldn’t be drinking this somehow diluted. The server assured me this was the correct way.

So I took a small sip, as did my hubby.

The Green Fairy: Diluted with ice (left), and straight (right).

WHOA, BABY!

It’s STRONG, to say the least, with a medicinal-like quality to it. You feel the heat of the alcohol spread down your throat down your esophagus. Some of you may already remember that my hubby likened it to Vick’s VapoRub — but in a good way. Indeed, this would cure any chest cold in a jiffy.

Fast forward to last summer when I got to tour St. George Spirits. When I mentioned to the guy manning the tasting bar that I’d drank Absinthe Verte straight, he nearly fell over. “You DO know that’s 120 proof, don’t you?” he asked incredulously.

Oh boy, do I. Good thing my hubby and I split the one tiny glass or else we’d still be flat on our backs right now.

Tastiing Bar Guy told me the proper way to drink their absinthe was to just add a few ice cubes to the glass, and let them melt a little. The ice cubes/water will turn the absinthe milky, signaling it’s ready to drink.

I bought a bottle ($75/750ml) home to try it the correct way.

It was still quite potent. But this time, the harshness of the alcohol was tamed a bit, bringing out more complex flavors, including basil and tarragon.

Tasting Bar Guy said I need not add sugar to their absinthe, which is more balanced than most. And indeed, I don’t think it needed that addition, either.

Absinthe might not be to everyone’s liking. In fact, Bay Area spirits writer Camper English advised me that if I didn’t really care for black licorice there were other brands of absinthe on the market that I would surely loathe because they tasted strongly of just that.

I admit that wimpy me can take absinthe in only small doses. But it’s definitely worth trying. I’m just glad I finally experienced it the proper way.

Tomorrow: Absinthe in Soup; Say What? (Part II) 

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Date: Thursday, 22. January 2009 5:11
Trackback: Trackback-URL Category: General, Great Finds, Spirits/Cocktails/Beer

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27 comments

  1. 1

    I still have to try Absynthe alone… It is delicious with chocolate!

    Cheers,

    Rosa

  2. 2

    With chocolate?? Really! I must try that. So you nibble some good dark chocolate while sipping the absinthe?

  3. 3

    Hmm, so you bought a whole bottle but you can only drink it in sips. I think that bottle might last 50 years! ;-) I still haven’t tried Absinthe, and not really sure I want to. But I am interested in it with chocolate. They’re sold in honor of Absinthe Bar and Restaurant at Christopher Elbow’s shop that’s diagonally across from the restaurant in Hayes Valley in San Francisco.

  4. 4

    I got a tiny three ounce sample of Pernod Absinthe last year. I tried it several ways with ice, straight, chilled etc. There’s a very good explanation of the “art” of drinking absinthe on Wikipedia. I love licorice and Campari used to be my favorite drink. But I agree with you, this stuff is way too intense. I liked it chilled and straight, no ice, no sugar.

    I still have two ounces in the bottle. Some day I’ll probably just toss it.

  5. 5

    Bill, don’t toss that absinthe. Use it in soup! heehee. (See tomorrow’s posting.)

    And yes, Single Guy Chef, being the light-weight that I am, my bottle of abstinthe probably will last me years. Tune in to the year 2015, when I’ll do the posting: “Absinthe — the Never Ending Bottle (Part 15).”

  6. 6

    Aieee, the memories! I found myself in a private home in the south of France a few years ago, being hosted by the most lovely and well-meaning people in the world who wanted only to please and honor their guests. Translation being loose and limited, I understood only that the aperitif we were being offered was “sweet”. Sweet is good. I like sweet :-) Did I wish some water with it? Oh, non, merci. Plain will be fine :-) Lesson learned: Pastis is *not* the same as Cassis. Oh no, not at all. And a mouthful of flaming licorice (which, after all, could not reasonably have been violently spit out in the middle of those nice people’s living room)? Oh my! Suffice to say the rest of the meal (which would have been extraordinary in any fine restauarant, let alone having come from the kitchen of a woman who worked elsewhere all day and came home to three young children!) was not exactly savored as much as I might have liked. Licorice, in any form, is not my friend. You go right ahead and enjoy that absinthe, Carolyn. You got me to make friends with fennel just the other day, but I’m thinking that’s about as far as you’re gonna get me comfy with the anise family.

  7. 7

    I’ve yet to try absinthe domestically, but this one looks good. Not those antifreeze colored ones you see at cheap eastern european bars. I do think it’s a bit fun to dunk a spoon with a sugar cube on it in the absinthe and light it on fire though (it’s even more fun after you’ve had several shots) and the caramel notes it adds is nice.

  8. 8

    Carroll, as always, you slay me! Hahah

    Over the holidays, we took the bottle of absinthe to my husband’s Christmas family gathering. We let his two 20-something nephews try it. We filled a shot glass with a tiny pour and added a few ice cubes. They both sipped and thought it was quite interesting tasting. They’d never had anything like it before.

    My husband’s sister wanted to give it a go. The youngest nephew handed the glass to her, with still a little absinthe left in it. She looked at him incredulously: “Aren’t you going to finish it? There’s so little left.” None of us said anything, knowing full well what was going to happen next.

    She nonchalantly took a sip. The next thing ya know, she was coughing, her eyes were watering, and she was yelling, “OH MY GAWD!!!”

    We couldn’t help but chuckle. She’d met the power of absinthe.

  9. 9

    I’ve never had absinthe but I’m not fond of licorice either so I dunno….dubious….but the soup has me curious.

  10. 10

    The only thing about American absinthe is its not prepared right. If anybody is trying find some good absinthe try Le Tourment Vert.

  11. 11

    Yeah that’s what I heard too! all the celebs were drinking Le Tourment Vert at Sundance Festival.

  12. 12

    It makes you hallucinate? Where can i buy it

  13. 13

    Dopeboy, just click on the St. George Spirits link in the posting, and you can find out where Absinthe Verte is available.

    And GreatDane, I have to ask: So do you think that someone who doesn’t really like the taste of black licorice (yes, me!), would enjoy Le Tourment Vert? Or should I stick to the more herbal-anise tasting Absinthe Verte?

  14. 14

    Ask a French person about drinking absinthe these days and they look at you like you’re crazy! Trust us. It just happened recently, and a total of five people thought we were crazy Americans for even asking about it. But now that we know it’s right up the PCH, why not take a trip for a shot or two?

  15. 15

    The article said absinthe will make your heart go thump, thump, thump. Shoot…you have a little too much of it and you don’t have to worry about hearing any thumping.

  16. 16

    im going to try it!

  17. 17

    YES IT DOES!

  18. 18

    I want my heart to go thump thump thump. where can i buy it

  19. 19

    anybody heard of Le Tourment Vert absinthe? pretty good stuff

  20. 20

    Le Tourment Vert is one of the most drinkable absinthes out there – it mixes well in cocktails. Some of the others I have tried are just too strong. So many of the bars in my area are serving it mixed. Foodgal – I think you would like the more subtle flavors of le tourment vert. I have even cooked with it – cookies and absinthe balls (like rum balls).

  21. 21

    Tye, thanks for providing a description of Le Tourment Vert. (love the name, by the way!) Wow, you can even make cookies with it? My kind of spirit.

  22. 22

    Le Tourment Vert is nothing like absinthe and it’s way too sweet and perfumey. It smells like men’s deoderant. It’s artificially colored too, what’s up with that?

  23. 23

    Men’s deodorant? Egads, that sounds kind of scary.

  24. 24

    Absinthe is my favourite drink. I think it’s foolish that it’s illegal in any country – wormwood may well be poisonous, but so is theobromide in chocolate. Chocolate will kill you if you eat sufficient quantity, so will absinthe, and so will chicken.

    That said…well, I can imagine it’s not to everyone’s taste, but I can drink bucketloads of the stuff (well…perhaps….if I was immune to alcohol). The enticing green colour is wonderful, and absinthe glasses and spoons/grilles are beautiful and elegant. The taste as well in my opinion is lovely, but then I like liquorice. It’s like whisky, except instead of tasting of whisky it tastes of anise.

    Absinthe is, regretfully, the only drink that will give me a hangover. I think it’s cos I drink so much of it at once, and it is sooooo strong.

  25. 25

    oh, I forgot to mention – the best way to drink absinthe on its own is indeed through a sugar cube, using an absinthe spoon. I can’t believe that you had it any other way in a bar, that is ridiculous!

    Another great one (my brother will kill me for saying this) is mixing it with champagne. A great New Years cocktail – it’s the only way I’ll drink champagne (I hate wine, beer, champagne and basically anything that tastes nasty and bitter and alcoholic).

    There are also many types of absinthe, and many modern kinds are artificially coloured. You gotta be careful, and remember that you get what you pay for.

  26. 26

    Buzz, you can drink bucketloads? Whoa!! I have heard about how good absinthe is mixed with champagne. I think that concoction even has a bonafide name, “Death in the Afternoon.” What a name, huh?

  27. 27

    I have two recipes that appear on the side of a vintage 1930s cocktail shaker, that I thought your readers may enjoy.

    Yale: Tom Gin, Orange Bitters, Dash Absinthe & Lemon Peel.

    Absinthe: 2/3 absinthe, 1/3 anisette, add water.

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