Attention SoCal: Drinkhacker and Lucid Absinthe Want Your Absinthe Cocktails!

This April, we landed in Austin, Texas to see what bartenders in the region could do with absinthe — you know, outside of pouring it into a glass with sugar and water.

The results were dazzling. I’m still dreaming about some of the winning concoctions the contestants came up with, particularly Chris Morris’s inspired Sogni d’Oro, a beautiful blend of Lucid Absinthe, espresso liqueur, dark rum, pineapple juice, and coconut nectar.

Now Drinkhacker and Lucid are back for round two: We’re heading to Los Angeles this September to see what the mixologists of the Southland can serve up.

Consider the bar raised. We’ve already seen some impressive entries, and I know that the judges will be looking for something completely different. Will the winner go with a spin on tradition? Perhaps the ever-popular absinthe-laced tiki cocktail? Or something we’ve yet to even think about?

The rules are about the same as last time around: We’re accepting entries now through August 25. Finalists will be selected and announced on August 28. On September 11 we’ll have a live competition in Los Angeles (venue to be announced) where the finalists will make their drinks live for us, the judges, and you, the audience.

The judges will convene to pick a winner, who’ll receive a $1000 prize from Drinkhacker. The “fan favorite,” based on voting from attendees, will receive $500 in cash.

Ready to enter? The contest is open to working mixologists throughout Southern California, so don’t be shy if you’re working in Long Beach or La Jolla.

To enter, create a unique recipe using Lucid Absinthe and email the recipe and a photograph to [email protected] Again, entries will be accepted through August 25 at 11:59pm PDT. The field of entries will be narrowed to 10 finalists who will be announced on August 28.

Time to get cracking, kids! Watch this space (and follow @drinkhacker on Twitter) for more news as we get closer to the big event!

Does Absinthe Make You Hallucinate?

“After the first glass, you see things as you wish they were. After the second, you see things as they are not. Finally you see things as they really are, and that is the most horrible thing in the world.” – Oscar Wilde

Though absinthe has been legal in the United States for a decade now, in the grand scheme of things it’s still a rather mysterious spirit, one that’s cloaked in superstition. And though the average imbiber might not know what absinthe is made out of or what it tastes like, the one thing everyone knows is the story of the “Green Fairy,” the hallucinations that one is said to get from drinking absinthe, and which has a lot to do why it was banned in the U.S. for about a century (1912-2007). So of course the question must now be asked: Does absinthe really make you hallucinate? If so, why? And if not, what the heck was going on with the ban?

So first off, what is the reason the stories give for absinthe’s hallucinogenic properties? The general consensus has been that wormwood, an herb used as a flavoring agent for the drink, contains thujone, a supposedly psychoactive compound that can cause someone enjoying the drink to see things. However, research shows that that just doesn’t seem to be the case; while wormwood definitely contains thujone, and thujone has been shown to block GABA receptors in the brain and can be toxic when taken in high enough doses, you won’t find any absinthe that contains the levels of thujone necessary for a reaction. (Not to mention that the effect of blocked GABA receptors isn’t trippy visions, but in fact painful convulsions. Not our idea of a good time.) Indeed, due to absinthe’s high alcohol content (typically around 60 to 70% abv), you would likely die of alcohol poisoning long before you ingested enough thujone to have any effect at all, good or ill.

That said, drinking absinthe isn’t a death sentence, either. Like the supposedly headache-inducing sulfites found in wine, thujone is naturally found in all sorts of things we ingest, and you don’t see people keeling over or having wild visions on the streets. The mundane truth is that neither wormwood nor the thujone within cause hallucinations, and the fact that people still fervently believe they do today shows how powerful the absinthe myth is.

But that’s the modern stuff. The absinthe that was available in its golden age was much more potent and psychotropic, right? Not likely. Despite the widespread belief that pre-ban absinthe had a much higher level of thujone in it, according to absinthe expert and Lucid creator Ted Breaux, absinthe never really had any hallucinogenic qualities. Instead, the poets and artists who claimed to see green fairies were likely just overtaken by absinthe’s high alcohol content, plus perhaps the power of suggestion, of course. If you have deep pockets, you can test Breaux’s claims yourself: There are plenty of sealed bottles of pre-ban absinthe on the market, they’re just very expensive.

So what was up with the ban in the first place? Remember that absinthe was banned in most countries in the early 20th century, when temperance movements were strong and had powerful political backing. The United States banned absinthe in 1912, even before Prohibition, while in France luminaries were attacking absinthe as the cause of all of the country’s declining moral values. It’s likely that absinthe, with an alcohol content a third higher than most gin or whiskey, was just a scapegoat for what was generally a bad time for alcohol. It took a lot of lobbying by folks like Breaux (and changing attitudes toward drinking) to finally overturn the ban just 10 years ago.

So that’s the strange, convoluted story of absinthe and its supposed effects. If you’re not going to rush out and break the bank on a pre-ban bottle, try a bottle of Pernod for the traditional experience, Lucid to see what bars are doing with it, or Wild Card for a more contemporary, “craft” absinthe.

Review: Copper & Kings Blue Sky Mining Brandy and Zmaj Absinthe

Two new releases, both limited editions, from Louisville-based craft distillers Copper & Kings — a muscat-based brandy and (another) absinthe. Let’s dig in!

Copper & Kings Blue Sky Mining Brandy – This is a limited edition “7-year-old pure muscat American brandy aged 30 months in a Kentucky hogshead barrel.” The first four and half years are spent in American oak wine barrels before moving to the hogshead. The brandy is bottled without any additional flavoring or color. The aromatic muscat is unmistakable on the nose, racy, floral, and a bit astringent. The palate is funky and, again, heavy on the muscat, though the sweetness is stripped down below where I’d like to see in a brandy, replacing that with notes of intense perfume, charred wood, and honeysuckle. There’s some charm here, but the muscat simply overpowers everything and dominates the experience from start to finish. That may be fine if muscat’s your jam, but it’s a bit too monochromatic for me. 600 half-bottles produced. 100 proof. B- / $40 (375ml)

Copper & Kings Zmaj Absinthe Superior – (Pronounced “zm-eye.”) This limited release absinthe starts from a double-distilled muscat brandy base, and it’s then matured 18 months in Serbian juniper wood barrels. The (unadulterated) nose has a strong fennel base, with some lemon underpinnings and hints of woodsy clove. The palate adds clear notes of ginger, stronger lemon, and a classic anise/fennel mix that lingers on the tongue. Water’s a must here. Sugar isn’t nearly as essential — it’s fairly sweet on its own — unless you want a solid (if rather yellow) louche; even then, I’d use a very light hand with it. What doesn’t much register in Zmaj is the muscat base, though a fleeting sense of rose petals on the finish may remind you from whence it all came. 130 proof. B / $60

copperandkings.com

Austin Edition of Lucid Cocktail Classique Showcases Stellar Absinthe Cocktails

April is the perfect time to visit Austin, Texas, and the weather was outstanding for an afternoon of sampling some of the best absinthe cocktails regional bartenders had to offer.

A couple of months ago, we — Drinkhacker and Hood River Distillers, the importer of Lucid Absinthe — encouraged bartenders to come up with new cocktails that showcased absinthe in more of its glory than you’ll find in, say, a sazerac or a zombie cocktail. Turns out that “absinthe forward” can mean a lot of different things, and the drinks submitted really spanned every type of cocktail imaginable, from classic tiki drinks to old-school flips. Lucid narrowed down the finalists to a dozen, and ten were on hand on Monday to prepare their cocktails and submit them for judging.

Our winner was Chris Morris, who’s opening a bar called Ready Room in Houston this coming May. Morris made his cocktail with passion, talking about his inspiration drawn from Italian spiked coffee drinks, and crafted it with skill. Balanced and seductive, the surprising drink is one you can make it at home yourself, and which you probably should:

Sogni D’Oro
1½ oz. Pineapple Juice
1 oz. Borghetti Espresso Liqueur
1 oz. Dark Jamaican Rum (Coruba)
¾ oz. Lucid Absinthe
1 barspoon Coconut Nectar

Add all ingredients and ice to shaker. Shake vigorously until thoroughly chilled (roughly 15 seconds). Double strain into a glass tea or coffee glass, finish with grated cinnamon.

Morris wins a cool thousand bucks for his drink — and Shaun Meglen, of Austin’s Peche cocktail bar, took home the $500 “fan favorite” prize, as voted by consumers who got to taste all the cocktails as well. Meglen’s drink is pure tiki, finding a bit of zombie-esque inspiration while turning out so vibrantly pink that it feels tailor-made for the summer. Here it is:

Roxy Rouge
1½ oz. Lucid Absinthe
¼ oz. Creme de Cassis
½ oz. Hibiscus Orgeat
½ oz. Coconut Cream
¾ oz. Lemon Juice
1 barspoon Vanilla Tincture
splash Brut Sparkling Wine

Shake all ingredients (except bubbles), strain over crushed ice. Top with sparkling wine. Garnish with fresh mint sprigs, edible hibiscus flower, and lemon peel flower.

The rest of the field had some impressive entries. Picking a winner was truly tough, but the good news is you can give them all a spin for yourself if you’ve got the time (and, in some cases, the wherewithal to track down some crazy ingredients).

Rye’d Away
A booze-heavy spin on the sazerac by Christopher Ayabe.
¾ oz Lucid Absinthe
3 dashes Regan’s Orange Bitters
¼ oz Demerara Simple Syrup
1¼ oz Michter’s Rye
½ oz Benedictine

Stirred, served up in a Nick and Nora glass.

Poolside at The Pogo Lounge
This tiki style drink from David Perez is served with coconut-anise bubbles, made by aerating tea with an aquarium pump.
¾ oz. Lucid Absinthe
¾ oz. Pot Still Rum
½ oz. Coconut Liqueur
1 oz. Fassionola
¾ oz. Lime Juice
½ oz. Demerara syrup

Shake and serve on crushed on ice into a Zombie or Collins class. Garnish with coco-anise foam.

Patent Pending
Robert Britto serves up a spicy drink punched with galangal root juice, a funky, earthy ginger-like root.
1 oz. Lucid Absinthe
½ oz. Velvet Falernum
¾ oz. Freshly squeezed lemon juice
½ oz. Simple Syrup
¼ oz. Freshly Juiced Galangal Root Juice (finely strained with a chinois)

Combine all ingredients in a Boston shaker tin. Shake for an average 12 seconds. Fine strain into a chilled martini glass. Rim and garnish with a simple lemon swath.

The Pop Tate
Caer Maiko’s upscale root beer was a personal favorite.
1 oz. Lucid Absinthe
¾ oz. Root (by Art in the Age)
¾ oz. Orgeat
½ oz. orange juice
1 egg white

Served up in an absinthe glass, garnished with an aromatic bitters design.

Voltaire
By Zach Barnhill
1 oz. Citadelle gin
1 oz. French vermouth
½ oz. Lucid Absinthe
½ oz. Suze
Lemon zest

Add all ingredients into a mixing glass. Stir until right temperature. Strain into Nick and Nora. Lemon zest and discard.

Wide Awake Dream
By Aaron Kolitz
½ oz. Lucid Absinthe
¾ oz. Krogstad Aquavit
1½ oz. Dolin Blanc
3½ ml Hopped Grapefruit Bitters
Lemon Oil
Garnish: Flamed star anise pods-studded lemon peel

Mr. Sandman
By Marla Martinez
1½ oz. Lucid Absinthe
¾ oz. Hoodoo Coffee Liqueur
¾ oz. Ginger Syrup
½ oz. Lemon Juice
2 dashes Angostura Bitters
Top with Topochico

Combine all ingredients into shaker tin, shake and strain into a rocks glass over crushed ice, top with Topochico. Garnish with mint sprig and candied ginger.

Land of Milk & Honey (A Bohemian Flip)
Saving Philip Coggins’ craziest cocktail of all for last.
1¼ oz. Lucid Absinthe
½ oz. Pendleton Canadian Whiskey
½ oz. D’Aristi Xtabentún
1 oz. Milk
¼ oz. Round Rock Honey Syrup
3 dashes Extinct Chemical Co Acid Phosphate
1 Whole Egg
10 drops Dead Rabbit Orinoco Bitters

Pour 1 oz absinthe into a separate glass, add ice cold water slowly until louche effect begins; pour into shaker. Add remaining spirits, 1 oz milk, 3 dashes of acid phosphate, and whole egg to shaker. Pour remaining ¼ oz. of absinthe and ¼ oz. honey syrup into jigger, and pour gently flamed mixture directly into shaker.
Dry shake for emulsification of egg. Add ice, shake. Strain neat. Garnish with 10 drops (1 per year of anniversary of the repeal of the absinthe ban) of Dead Rabbit Bitters on froth, rake into a pattern.

Thanks to all of our bartender competitors for participating. Next stop: Los Angeles in the late summer!

All photos courtesy Jessica Fradono Photography.

Attention Austin: Drinkhacker and Lucid Absinthe Want Your Absinthe Cocktails!

Ten years ago this March, the effective ban on the sale of absinthe in the U.S. was finally lifted, formally legalizing the sale of one of the most mysterious and enigmatic spirits ever produced, marking the end of nearly a century of unwarranted persecution.

When absinthe came back, it came back with a vengeance, with domestic and foreign-produced brands literally flooding the market. Within a few years there were more than 200 brands for sale, all vying for the dollars of drinkers fascinated with this forbidden concoction.

What we didn’t get was absinthe’s return to cocktail culture. Sure, folks might swirl some real absinthe in a Sazerac instead of Herbsaint, or rinse a cocktail glass with a scant dash of absinthe for a Corpse Reviver, but actual absinthe-focused cocktails have remained few and far between. Most people who encounter absinthe today probably do so the old-fashioned way, with cold water dripped slowly over a sugar cube suspended above a glass of the “green fairy.”

The world of absinthe-focused cocktails is simply much too small, and that’s why Lucid Absinthe Supérieure (whom you can thank for helping to get the ban overturned in 2007) and Drinkhacker are teaming up to challenge bartenders in a few of our most vibrant cities to design the most creative cocktails they can, using Lucid Absinthe as a focus. Starting with Austin, Texas, a panel of us experts (including Lucid master distiller Ted Breaux) will pore over the submissions and debate the merits of each. The winning recipe in the so-called Cocktail Classique competition will be awarded a $1,000 cash prize by Drinkhacker on April 24.

Also that evening, we’ll host an event in Austin, inviting our top 10 finalists to mix up their recipes for the public. You’re all invited to swing by, sample some absinthe drinks, and pick your favorite. The favorite drink judged by the fans will receive a $500 prize.

So now it’s time for you Austin bartenders to get cracking. Applicants should create a unique recipe using Lucid Absinthe and email the recipe and a photograph to [email protected]. Entries will be accepted through April 10 at 11:59pm PDT. The field of entries will be narrowed to 10 finalists who will be announced on April 11.

Watch this space (and follow @drinkhacker on Twitter) for more news as we get closer to the big event!

Tasting and Testing: MashBox Club Spirits Samplers

mashbox

Like Flaviar and the Whisky Explorers Club, MashBox aims to expose you to spirits you wouldn’t normally get to try. The main difference with this booze-of-the-month club is that with MashBox you get a lot more than just whiskey (as we’ll see below). It’s a veritable tour of the entire spirits universe.

The deal is simple: $99 a year gets your four boxes of three 50ml samples, which works out to about $8 per dram. That’s about what a shot of Jack will cost you around these parts, so it’s not a bad deal.

MashBox’s focus is squarely on craft and unusual spirits (with a heavy focus on New York-based operations) — and some of the products included in the sample kits I’ve received I’m never encountered in the wild, or even heard of before this. There’s no need to scour the web for data, though. Each shipment comes with a set of cards offering some basic production information and tasting notes on each product you receive. And if you like something, you can buy a full bottle at a discounted price.

Here’s a look at nine of the samples from three recent MashBox shipments. These mini-reviews are in no particular order as the products of the various sample boxes we received got mixed up, but they should give you an idea of what to expect each quarter. While not every product is a home run, I’m a big fan of trying something off the beaten path once in a while. Give MashBox a try and see what you think!

Kings County Distillery Bourbon – Young bourbon from Brooklyn, NY. Heavily grainy, with chocolate malt overtones and tons of wood. It’s initially undercooked, as craft whiskey can often be, with a surplus of ginger and baking spice on the back end to help temper the heavy barrel influence. 90 proof. C

Barrell Whiskey Batch 2 – We’ve covered Barrell a few times, but batch 2 of its sherry-cask treated whiskey is a new one for us. Interesting butterscotch notes and red berries meld well with caramel and vanilla notes. A bit astringent, but that happens at 123.8 proof. B

Mister Katz’s Rock & Rye – Spicy, with rather intense mulled wine notes. Tastes like Christmas. See full review here. 65 proof. B+

Van Brunt Stillhouse Rye Whiskey – Van Brunt’s 9 month old rye is youthful and brash (see other Van Brunt reviews here), but its pungent nose finds a curious companion in a body that offers up notes of cloves, petrol, burnt bread, and a bit of burnt rubber, too. Intriguing, but extremely young. 84 proof. C+

Oak & Rye Wormwood – Grain-distilled spirit (corn- and rye-based whiskey) flavored with wormwood. In other words, it’s a unique spin on absinthe by way of a flavored whiskey. The nose is so hard to place — forest fires, rubber, and scorched herbs — but the palate is gentler, with a smoky sweetness that finds a strange complement in the form of lingering anise notes. One of the more bizarre spirits I’ve seen lately. 90 proof. B-

Maid of the Meadow – Vodka with herbs and honey from Denning’s Point Distillery in Beacon, New York. Quite good, and it delivers on exactly what the description promises. The honey is restrained and gentle, the herbs a dusting of cinnamon, sesame, and lemon. Tastes like it’s made for a toddy. 80 proof. A-

Glorious Gin – Breukelen Distilling offers this heavily floral gin, which includes rosemary, ginger, and grapefruit in the mix. It tops a somewhat earth-toned core with a good amount of fruit character and only a modest juniper slug. Interesting stuff and unexpected from the normally bombastic craft gin market. Try with a craft tonic. 90 proof. B+

Kas Krupnikas – A traditional Lithuanian honey spiced liqueur made in Mahopac, New York. Richer and much more honey-focused than Maid of the Meadow, but just as compelling in its own, special way. While Maid of the Meadow feels like an ingredient, Kas Krupnikas is a soothing sipper that works beautifully on its own. Very heavy honey — equal parts fruit and earth — dominates, with some hints of orange peel, cloves, and fresh gingerbread. A beautiful little surprise. 92 proof. A

Doc Herson’s Natural Spirits Green Absinthe – A South African madman makes absinthe in Brooklyn, people. What he’s come up with is a classic rendition of the spirit, with a sweet licorice and fennel focus that comes alive with sugar and water. It doesn’t need much doctoring, mind you, just a little kick to bring out its inner beauty. Lovely mint and cocoa powder notes emerge on the finish. 134 proof. B+

mashandgrape.com

Review: Copper & Kings Absinthe Complete Lineup

copper and kings absinthe

Recently we talked about Copper & Kings’ brandies. Today we look at the absinthes, a set of four blanche absinthes made in… Kentucky. All are based on the brandy distillate (so, made from Muscat grapes — though some sources claim French Colombard), vapor-distilled with grande wormwood, fennel, anise, and hyssop during the initial distillation.

Intriguingly, three “flavored” varieties are also available, though that’s quite a misnomer, as the extra ingredients — each is self-explanatory in the name of the product below — are added during that initial distillation run. In some cases, these are significant improvements to the original recipe!

Thoughts on all four follow. All are 130 proof.

005Copper & Kings Blanche Absinthe – Again, this is a blanche absinthe — so a clear absinthe, not green. It louches well with water and sugar to a pure, pale, milky white. The absinthe offers intense, candied licorice notes, both on the nose (straight) and even stronger with a traditional preparation of water and sugar. There’s a fruity undercurrent on the palate here, a slight note of apples and one of golden raisins, too. Dial back the sugar a tad to reveal some earthy qualities, perhaps a touch of cinnamon. A nice starter absinthe. B+

Copper & Kings Citrus Absinthe Superior – Adds a distinct orange element to the above, but in extreme moderation: just a grating or two of orange peel into that sweet candied licorice core. Very subtle. B+

Copper & Kings Lavender Absinthe Superior – Lavender’s a character that’s tough to disguise, and on the nose it’s clear as a bell — at least until you add water and sugar. From there on, the lavender takes a back seat. As with the citrus, it’s quite subtle (though not quite so difficult to detect), lending a floral note to the proceedings. I liked this a lot more than I expected — lavender in anything comestible is usually a horrible idea — and it turned out to be my favorite of the bunch by a very slight margin. A-

Copper & Kings Ginger Absinthe Superior – Another strong flavor that again makes its presence known more on the unadulterated nose than on the palate. Here, the finished concoction veers more toward a fuller-bodied cocktail, with just a touch of heat on the tip of the tongue as the finish develops. Again, this is a slight improvement on the undoctored version of the spirit, though it’s awfully tough to tell what’s specifically been added if you don’t already know. Another subtle yet well-crafted improvement. The ginger gets clearer with more water. Definitely a worthwhile addition. A-

each $55 / copperandkings.com

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