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.

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  [BUY IT NOW FROM DRINKUPNY]

 

Bastille Day Review: Ricard Pastis

Today is Bastille Day, and in honor of the French Revolution, the folks at Pernod-Ricard sent us a bottle of Ricard Pastis (and a pétanque set) to help us celebrate.

Pastis is an anise-flavored liqueur — not the same as absinthe (but it’s the closest category we have here) since it has no wormwood, but it tastes and behaves quite similarly. Flavored strongly of licorice, pastis is high in alcohol (Ricard is 90 proof), and is served with lots of cold water, whereupon in creates a cloudy louche effect. Unlike with absinthe, sugar is not added because the pastis has sugar already in the bottle.

The golden-hued Ricard (which is based on beet spirits) is quite alcoholic without water, but its sweetness and anise still come straight through. It louches into an eggnog color with water, and once diluted to something more approachable (the company suggests 5 parts water to 1 part Ricard), it’s really quite tasty and refreshing. It’s on the sweet side for pastis, but not overly so. The anise is well done, the overall effect being more licorice-candy like, with hints of lemongrass and cocoa powder.

Just the thing for celebrating all that French bloodletting.

A- / $26 / pernod-ricard.com

ricard pastis france

4th of July Cocktail Recipes – 2009

Every time a holiday rolls around, the spirits makers commission all manner of cocktails from their in-house mixologists and professionals in the field. Independence Day is no exception, and this post full of selected recipes is drawn from what is arguably the biggest bumper crop of cocktail ideas I’ve seen since starting this blog. Hope you like red, white, and blue.

The American Collins

1 1/2 oz. Bombay Sapphire
3/4 oz. simple syrup
1/2 oz. fresh lemon juice
4 Bing cherries, pitted
8 blueberries

In a Collins glass, muddle the blueberries and cherries in the lemon juice and simple syrup. Add Sapphire and ice and stir briefly. Top with club soda. Garnish: 1 Bing Cherry and 1 Lemon Wheel.

Firecracker

3 oz. Flor de Caña 7 Year Grand Reserve Rum
1 oz. Triple Sec
1 oz. fresh lime juice
1 oz. simple syrup (boil and cool equal parts water and sugar)
4 watermelon chunks
½ teaspoon cayenne pepper

Whirl all ingredients together and pour into a glass. Garnish with a lime wheel.

Stars and Stripes

1/4 oz. Lucid Absinthe
1 oz. Blueberry Vodka
1/4 oz. Simple Syrup
Splash of Lemon Juice
Drizzle of Raspberry Liqueur
Ginger beer
Fresh Blueberries

Muddle fresh blueberries and add syrup, Lucid, juice and vodka. Add ice and shake and pour into highball glass. Drizzle Liqueur and top with Ginger Beer. Garnish with one sugar cube.

Sobieski Star

1 1/2 oz. Sobieski Vodka
1/2 oz. Massenez Créme de Peche
3/4 oz. Pineapple Juice
1 oz. Lychee Juice
1/4 oz. Lime Juice
Garnish: Star fruit

Put all the ingredients in a shaker, shake and strain into a Martini glass.

The Roman Candle

4 oz. Korbel Brut
1 oz. Tuaca Italian liqueur
Garnish with dried cranberries

Combine in a tall flute.

ZICO Doodle Dandy

2 oz. ZICO Mango
4 oz. Skyy Infusions Vodka all natural passion fruit
1 oz. Cointreau
Splash of cranberry juice
Slice of orange
Strawberry

Mix all ingredients together in a shaker with ice. Strain into cocktail glass. Garnish with a fresh strawberry and enjoy.

Old Forester Summer Julep

1 1/2 oz. Old Forester bourbon
2 oz. Lemonade
1 oz. Pomegranate Juice

Combine ingredients in a cocktail shaker with ice. Strain over ice into a rocks glass. Garnish with a lemon twist.

The Roman Candle

In a tall flute add:

4 ounces Korbel Brut (a sparkler for your Independence Day entertaining)

1 ounce Tuaca Italian liqueur (the Italian heritage lends itself to the cocktail’s name)

Garnish with dried cranberries

Revisiting Absinthe: Seven Bottlings Re-Sampled

absinthe-posterAbsinthe is the subject that keeps on keeping on — some of the forum battles over the intricacies of the subject here are legendary — and in honor of Vieux Carré‘s fine showing, I thought it would be personally instructive to revisit some of my most highly rated absinthes — and a few I didn’t like so much at first — in a side-by-side-by-side scenario.

This is an informal review, just a re-sampling of several of the more noteworthy bottles from prior reviews. But I thought it would be fun to see whether my opinions have changed since the early days of the blog, when some of these absinthes were initially reviewed. They appear below in my order of preference (with gut reaction ratings), based solely on this limited sampling.

To clarify: This is not a comprehensive sampling of EVERY absinthe on the market or even every absinthe I have on hand, just a ranking of seven I thought merited a re-taste. Some very good products are not included here.

On to the absinthe, starting with the best.

Obsello – 100 proof, gorgeous milky louche. Relatively subtle flavor; goes down incredibly easy. Interesting additional herbal notes but nothing overwhelming. The comparatively lower alcohol content is noticeable when compared directly to others in the group. Shockingly, also the cheapest real absinthe on the market. A

La Clandestine – 106 proof, clear/louches to a milky white. Sweetest absinthe of the bunch, and very mild. Anise is practically an afterthought, here. Extremely easygoing. A

Pernod – 136 proof, big and muddy green louche. Artificially colored. Huge, bittersweet flavor. Almost like licorice candy. Pleasant but different than lighter style spirits, and by a wide margin the strongest flavor in the group. A-

Koruna – 146 proof, pale color with no louche. Tart character, with clearly citrus overtones. Lighter in style and dominated by alcohol rather than anise/wormwood. I’m still a fan. A-

Kübler – 106 proof, clear/louches to milky white with yellow notes. Heavy lemon notes are love-it-or-leave-it, I think they clash with the anise here — which may be why this didn’t strike me as especially good on first review. I’d dismissed it as a bit boring originally, but it’s indeed unique when you put it side by side with the others. Still, though, not a favorite. B

Lucid – 124 proof, pale color with light yellow louche. Quite bitter and a little off-putting on first taste. It grows on you over time, but there’s better stuff out there. B- [BUY IT NOW FROM CASKERS]

Le Tourment Vert – 100 proof, blue-green with (contrary to popular opinion) a slight louche. Artificially colored. Amazing how wrong I was, and I humbly have to give credit to the commenters on this one who told me I was nuts. (I plead youth: It was the first absinthe I formally reviewed, back in the day.) Really strong chemical flavor and psychedelic coloration combine in negative ways for me now. It’s got a huge mint character, which is probably why, in combo with the coloration, people make comparisons to mouthwash. I’d give this a much lower rating today, though it has some charms. C

Interesting that the lighter-flavored absinthes tended to do better in my ranking, with the exception of Pernod, whose strongness surprised me just as much as the backlash against it has. And in case you’re looking for more “top” absinthes out there, in addition to the top 3 on this roundup, add Vieux Carré, Nouvelle Orleans, and St. George to the list of “absinthe bests.”

Review: Vieux Carré Absinthe

vieux-carre-absinthe

It is fortunately far easier to drink Vieux Carré Absinthe than it is to type Vieux Carré Absinthe.

This absinthe is produced by Philadelphia Distilling (which also created the fine Bluecoat Gin) and is composed, as the bottle tells us, of “grain neutral spirits distilled with herbs with additional herbs added.” No mention of artificial color, and in the glass it indeed looks authentic, a deep yellow tinged with green.

At bottle strength (120 proof) it is extremely boozy but offers surprising depth of bittersweet anise character. When prepared traditionally, it creates a medium to strong louche, with a curious, thin foam-like film on top. Not at all unpleasant, but noteworthy and unusual.

The prepared absinthe is extremely easy-drinking and very pleasant, a licorice kick with gentle sweetness and a bittersweet finish. Difficult to pick out specific herbs that might be used in addition to classic wormwood, anise, and fennel, but there’s a faint muscular flavor to it — almost like hints of chimichurri sauce, which I happen to love.

As for the name, it’s drawn from the French phrase for the French Quarter in New Orleans. The bottle is also of note, a thick, heavy, and beautiful decanter that, when full, is completely illegible since it’s covered in an opaque, lacy green design, making the spirit inside look far darker than it actually is while wholly obscuring the label (the bottle shot below must have been lit with a hundred halogen lights). Luckily, you won’t need to read this one closely: You’ll know it when you see it. As absinthes go, it’s an excellent value too, by the way.

A- / $60 / vieuxcarreabsinthe.com  [BUY IT NOW FROM DRINKUPNY]

New York Times Rates Absinthe

Ever so quick to jump on the absinthe bandwagon, the New York Times has finally weighed in on the absinthe phenomenon, and has even gone so far as to rank its favorite absinthes, as determined by a tasting panel which went through 20 bottlings. (I shudder to think of the aftermath of that event.) Their results:

1. Kubler
2. Grande
3. Pernod
4. Emile Pernot
5. St. George
6. Jade Nouvelle-Orleans
7. Obsello
8. La Clandestine
9. Lucid
10. Mansinthe

I haven’t tried a few of these products but overall the rankings are fairly agreeable. I think Kubler is overrated here, and Obsello deserves a higher spot, but otherwise (not including the three I haven’t tried), this seems like a pretty fair list.

I’m sure many will find plenty of room for disagreement in the comments…

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