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, aka Legendre Herbsaint.
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.