Review: Wild Card Pacific Northwest Absinthe

WILDCARD PNGBend, Oregon-based Oregon Spirit Distillers makes Wild Card Absinthe with locally-grown wormwood, fennel, and anise, the re-distills the resulting concoction and steeps it with petite wormwood, cardamom, hyssop, and melissa. The finished product is a light-bodied absinthe that is nonetheless a punchy and highly alcoholic nod to the past. Thoughts follow.

Wild Card is pale yellow-green in color, with an immediate aroma of lemon. This dissipates to reveal straightforward licorice candy notes on the nose. Without water, the body is pure anise and quite hot, almost lip-burningly so. Prepared with sugar and water, you get a pretty, light-yellow louche, and the body takes on a more traditional absinthian character, with shades of anise and fennel atop a granular, sugary body. No need to overdo the water here. About 2:1 will do nicely and help to bring out some tertiary notes of citrus, cinnamon, and apple cider. Overall it’s a very pleasant expression of absinthe — simple, delicate, and enjoyable… but a bit of a “starter absinthe” for those looking to dip a toe in the water.

125 proof.

B+ / $50 / wildcardabsinthe.com

Review: Pernod Absinthe “Original Recipe”

pernod original recipe

It wasn’t long ago that Pernod re-entered the market with an authentic absinthe (i.e. one with wormwood in it). But purists complained: Why would Pernod, whose absinthe cred dates back to 1792 and which was the market leader for over a century, release an absinthe with a wholly new recipe? Does not compute.

Following a minor outcry (absinthe nerds are a loud bunch, they’ll be the first to admit), Pernod recently announced some big news: It is returning to its original formula, having spent the last two years researching remaining records from the 1800s to determine how Pernod was made back then.

According to the company, there are three main differences. First, the base spirit has changed from grain alcohol to a grape-based spirit, or brandy. In fact, Languedoc grapes are used for the brandy in keeping with the original recipe. Second, the grande wormwood in the spirit is sourced from Pontarlier, France, Pernod’s historic home. Finally, the new spirit is colored through macerated green nettles, not added dyes or artificial colors. While the eschewing of colorants is a nice touch, it’s the move to a brandy base that is really the biggest shift here. That adds considerable complexity and cost to the production… but what does it do to the final product?

I just so happened to have a bottle of Pernod from its prior recipe (unopened, circa 2012) as well as a sample of the new “Original Recipe” Pernod. Let’s compare.

Pernod “Original Recipe” is slightly different in color. Slightly closer to a solid green, less yellow/chartreuse. On the nose it’s tougher to pick out differences. The prior recipe seems to offer just a hint of added sweetness — like licorice candy — on the nose, but this is also a slight change. Finally, to the body. I’m happy to report that “Original Recipe” Pernod is a standout absinthe… but I thought the prior recipe version was exceptional, as well. The brandy base likely has made the biggest impact here, giving the spirit a somewhat sour edge at first, but also providing a bigger, more robust body than the sharper and somewhat cleaner prior bottling. Otherwise, the botanicals struck me about the same way. Maybe a touch more lemon verbena in the mix on this new absinthe, but otherwise, a fresh, anise-driven body with clean citrusy, licorice-twisted notes behind it.

So, the bottom line: Is Original Recipe better? I’m truly on the fence. The differences are not great, and Pernod should be credited for putting out a classy bottling in its first stab at a post-ban absinthe. The lack of chemical dyes in the new version is to be commended, but the freshness and slight sweetness of the former version also resonate with me. Call it a tie?

136 proof (same as before).

A / $68 / pernodabsinthe.com

Preview: Butterfly Absinthe

butterfly absinthe (2)Based in Switzerland, Alan Moss is the kind of guy who lives and breathes absinthe. He writes about absinthe prodigiously on his blog, and he also makes the stuff (well, his partners do): La Clandestine is easily the best blanche absinthe on the market.

Moss has other tricks up his sleeve, it seems, and recently he dropped by Drinkhacker HQ to show off his latest: Butterfly. This is an absinthe that’s been on sale in Europe for a few years but is now coming to the U.S. As well it should: It’s actually an American-born absinthe, the recipe having originated in Boston, Mass., in 1902. As the story goes, an old bottle of an absinthe called Butterfly was unearthed on eBay — only the buyer ended up pouring it out when she was denied the ability to board a plane with it. The label survived, and the spirit was later recreated with a book was uncovered in Boston’s archives, and the original handwritten recipe (or at least one of the recipes) for Butterfly was found.

The label was recreated — with a few minor tweaks — when the absinthe was formally launched in 2011. Today it is produced in Switzerland alongside La Clandestine.

This is the new U.S. label; European label shown above.

This is the new U.S. label; European label shown above.

I was fortunate enough to taste the new release, a quite sweet absinthe (which needs no sugar added) that includes some unusual botanicals, namely peppermint and citrus. The color is a beautiful chartreuse and the flavors run to lemon oil, fresh cut ginger, green onion, and of course some licorice candy. It’s a really top-notch product that will hit in the fall of this year for $85 to $90 a bottle. 130 proof. A

Moss also showed off a product which is not coming to the U.S. In fact, it’s only available if you visit the distillery where La Clandestine and Butterfly are made. Absinthe Aux Oeufs (pictured below) is, as the name implies, an eggnog liqueur that’s spiked with absinthe. A bizarre and unlikely spirit, you don’t really detect the absinthe. Instead, this big, eggy, vanilla-and-caramel cream liqueur drinks like a traditional ‘nog… until, after a while, a hint of licorice comes out. It’s super strange, yet surprisingly compelling. Too bad the six month shelf life means it will never be exported. 30 proof.

oeufs

Review: Obsello II Absinthe Verte

Obsello IIWe’ve long since noted Obsello as one of our favorite absinthes on the market. Unfortunately, the American-born, Spanish-made product went off the market a few years ago. But now it’s back, in a slightly revised form.

Obsello II looks almost identical to its original rendition, with a few little twists. For starters, instead of being based on grape neutral spirits, Obsello II starts with Caribbean rum as the base. It is then infused with wormwood, anise, fennel, star anise, coriander, lemon balm, and hyssop flowers (the same recipe) before bottling at 110 proof (instead of 100 proof in the original). It’s also made in the U.S. now (and on sale only in California).

Continue reading

Review: Master of Malt Professor Cornelius Ampleforth’s Cold-Distilled Absinthe 91.2%

One of Master of Malt’s completely hare-brained sub-brands, Professor Cornelius Ampleforth is the producer of a line of unusual spirits, including this ultra-oddity, an “absinthe” distilled to 182.4 proof.

Not a typo.

Made in the UK from English wheat and traditional absinthe botanicals (grand wormwood, anise, fennel, licorice) and a number of non-traditional ones drawn from the world of gin (coriander, lemon peel, orange peel), this spirit is distilled in a vacuum such that boiling point is at room temperature… and alcohol level is sky high. Continue reading

Looking for the Green Fairy with an Absinthes.com Sampler Pack

Interested in absinthe but don’t know where to start? With bottle prices that can top $100 a pop, it’s tough to justify the price for a bottle if you aren’t exactly sure what you’re getting in to.

Germany-based Absinthes.com attempts to correct that with its collection of miniatures — 50ml bottles of absinthe available for about $10 a bottle, well within “experimental” range. Continue reading

Review: Ridge Distillery Extrait d’Absinthe Verte

Ridge Distillery makes gin and absinthe in the mountains of Montana. This is the flagship, a classic (green) absinthe imbued with grand wormwood, green anise, fennel, coriander, angelica, elecampane, melissa, and roman wormwood — some of which I didn’t have the first idea what they were until I looked them up.

Poured neat into a glass, there’s a distinct lemon note on the nose (that’s the melissa, I think), doing a fair job at battling that anise/licorice character. A sip of unadulterated bottle strength spirit bears this out further. Continue reading

Three New Absinthes from Ted Breaux: Jade CF Berger, Jade 1901, and Jade Esprit Edouard

Absinthe may have been the fastest rising and most rapidly falling fad in booze since Zima (when’s the last time you had a glass?), but let’s not forget our heritage: Absinthe is a spirit of critical import to the history of the (drinking) world, sullied alas by Americans jonesing for modern-day recreations of the stuff after a century of it being banned here. Can’t blame ’em, but now there’s a flood of absinthe on the market, some good, some not.

Fortunately there are folks like Ted Breaux, who brought Lucid into the U.S. in 2007 as (arguably) the first post-ban absinthe in the U.S, who is now bringing high-end absinthe into the country in the form of three European products released there in 2005. Jade C. F. Berger, Jade 1901, and Jade Esprit Edouard aren’t cheap, but they’re meant to accurately recreate the character of three famed 19th century absinthes that have long been unavailable (but which Breaux has stocks of), right down to the labels. They join Nouvelle Orleans in the company’s “Vintage” line.

Now I’ve never tried the original spirits upon which these are based, so these reviews are based only on their merits (and vs. other modern absinthes). Thoughts follow. (Material in quotes is material provided by Jade’s creators at Viridian Spirits.)

Jade C. F. Berger Absinthe Superieure – “C. F. Berger absinthe verte, originally produced by C. F. Berger in Couvet, Switzerland. Considered one of the premier absinthes of the 19th century, it is in the Swiss style, characterized by a bold bouquet; full-bodied, rounded mouthfeel; and distinct herbal notes that linger on the palate.” The lightest in color of this trio, in the high-test world of absinthe it’s practically easygoing. Light lemon and lime notes, with a solid anise slug backing it up. I wouldn’t describe it as particularly herbal, but rather fruity and simple instead, albeit with a lasting finish. Minimal louche. I actually prefer it with just water, no sugar. 130 proof. B+

Jade 1901 Absinthe Superieure “is a tribute to the best known and most widely sampled pre-ban absinthe, which was originally produced around 1901, but then virtually wiped out when the original distillery in Pontarlier was destroyed by fire. Jade 1901 is a classic absinthe, balanced and crisp, with an appetizing herbal aroma and a smooth, lingering aftertaste.” Very mild. With sugar and water, it’s almost like a pastis, pleasant, refreshing, and easygoing. After awhile, I found the finish turning a touch bitter, like a dried herbal character. Lovely louche. 136 proof. B

Jade Esprit Edouard Absinthe Superieure “is a faithful reproduction of one of the most famous and highly regarded Belle Époque absinthes.  A century after the demise of the original, Breaux examined perfectly preserved examples of the renowned spirit to develop a contemporary recipe that captures the original’s delicate tint, refined texture, and exquisitely smooth flavor.” A chartreuse monster, one sip straight nearly knocked me off the couch. Don’t skimp on the water here, for when it’s prepared correctly this absinthe offers a unique earthiness, echoing the aromas and flavors of the forest. Unique, you’ll find citrus notes, moderately strong floral characteristics, and a lasting, bittersweet finish. Beautiful, iridescent yellow louche. The best of this bunch, and at a blazing 144 proof. A-

each $100 / bestabsinthe.com

Ted Breaux Absinthes Berger Jade 1901 Esprit Edouard

Review: Germain-Robin Absinthe Superieure

My, absinthe, what a long while it’s been!

Germain-Robin’s Absinthe Superieure (via Greenway Distillers) is a blanche (clear) spirit, distilled not up to a blazing 140 or so proof, but down to 90 proof, making it perhaps the least alcoholic absinthe I’ve ever sampled. The spirit is infused with wormwood, rose geranium, lemon balm, fennel, hyssop, lemon verbena, star anise, and lemon peel.

The result is an absinthe that you can practically drink straight, if you’re so inclined: Quite sweet (despite no added sugar), and fragrant with straight-up licorice notes. It burns, but it’s not a killer. Add water and sugar (but not too much of either… less than a full cube and a 2:1 or even 1:1 ratio of water is fine) and this absinthe becomes quite easy-drinking, offering a really lightly sweet, Pastis-like experience, with a lingering licorice finish. I don’t get much in the way of additional character. Maybe a little touch of tart citrus on the mid-body from the lemon ingredients, but otherwise a clean, easy, and really pleasant absinthe. Like Pastis, but with just a bit more kick to it.

A- / $44 / germain-robin.com

 

Happy Absinthe Day

Yeah, it’s about as made-up a holiday as you can get, but March 5 is Absinthe Day, which means you should be mixing up a little green fairy concoction in honor of the misunderstood spirit.

Don’t know where to start? Here are some of my favorite absinthes on the market:

Obsello – Spanish. Fragrant, silky, and lush. 100 proof.

La Clandestine – Swiss. Blanche style (that is, not green). Lovely lavender tint to it, needs minimal doctoring to be pleasant. 106 proof.

Vieux Carre – American. Light and pleasant. 120 proof.

St. George – American. Peppery and lemon character make this one a little unique. Hot. 120 proof.