Review: Herbsaint Original

There is one known use for Herbsaint, and it’s a big one: In the classic Sazerac cocktail, in which the glass is washed with Herbsaint before rye, sugar, and Peychaud’s bitters are added.

Now Sazerac (the company) is relaunching the venerable spirit with its original 1934 recipe, called Herbsaint Original.

Neither the standard Herbsaint nor Herbsaint Original contain wormwood, so while they both carry a strong anise/licorice flavor, neither is a real absinthe. Nonetheless the liqueur was caught up in anti-absinthe hysteria in the 1930s, and the company was forced to remove the word “absinthe” from its labeling.

I was expecting minimal difference between Herbsaint Original and standard Herbsaint, but boy was I wrong. Poured neat, these are night and day against each other: Herbsaint is electric green and a little scary in its artificial coloring, while Herbsaint Original is a deeper greenish brown (though it too includes artificial coloring). The flavors are different, too: Herbsaint is known for a sharp licorice character and a heavy alcoholic finish, but Original is deeper and richer, still clearly licorice, but less sweet and, surprisingly, less boozy, despite being 100 proof to the standard version’s 90 proof.

One surprise: Herbsaint standard actually performed better in the Sazerac cocktail. While the tastes were similar, Herbsaint Original just weighed things down too much.

Both versions will continue to be sold.

A- / $35 / sazerac.com

herbsaint original Review: Herbsaint Original

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5 Responses to Review: Herbsaint Original

  1. Did you compare this to any absinthes? I’d be really interested in hearing how it stands up against any of those…

  2. AK – No, it’s not a real absinthe so I didn’t see much point, as I doubt many drinkers will consume it that way.

  3. When it comes to cocktails/mixed drinks, I have often discovered that the basic brands of most liquors, especially tequilla and rum, are better for mixing than the high end brands of the liquor. For some reason, they just taste better in a cocktail and the higher end brands are better sipped alone. Very strange, I think the only spirit where I have not experienced this is vodka, (one needs a “good” vodka, to make a great vodka martini). Since you are the expert, any theories why this may be…or do I just have bad taste??

  4. Green Impudence

    A chutzpah marketing stunt in the 30s to try to fill the absinthe market, the new one – “Original” – complete with modern artificals is hanging on the coat tails of the absinthe revival. They wanted to call it absinthe, as I understand it, but were warned off by the absinthe cabal.

  5. “Green Impudence” doesn’t know very much about Herbsaint, there was some added color to the 100 proof version back in the day. (At 100 proof the herbs turn fueille mort, there were two proofs 100 and 120 back in the 30s and 40s)

    Far from hanging on the coat tails, the vintage revived HerbsaintOriginal, tastes far better many brands of absinthe out there, and tastes many times better than the fake Czech swill peddled by the thujone monkeys in Eastern Europe.

    I found it a made a Sazerac a bit smoother than the 90 proof version, YMMV.

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