Absinthe (image modified by Kelly McCormack)Absinthe

by Kelly McCormack

La fee verte, The Green Fairy.
poisonous Wormwood, licorice-y Anise.
An exotic spirit shrouded in myth
made famous by Van Gogh and Toulouse Lautrec.

in 2007 the ban on sale and manufacture of Absinthe in the United States was lifted. It has since made a quiet revival and can be found in select bars and liquor stores across the country.

Absinthe is strong, 100-150 proof. It is expensive, generally $50-80 for a 750ml bottle. It is an acquired and intense taste, unless you really happen to like black licorice. "Tastes like burning" might describe drinking it straight (a favorite quote from Ralph Wiggum on The Simpsons). The particular shade of green and cloudy "louche" effect when cold liquid is mixed with absinthe enhances its mysterious appeal.

If you've heard of absinthe you've heard of the alleged hallucinogenic effects it provides; unfortunately this is myth. You'd probably die of alcohol poisoning before you got "high" from drinking absinthe. It does provide a unique inebriation characterized by lucidity and enhanced by the tingly elixer taste of the spirit.

Presented here are my personal recommendations on absinthe brands and drinks:

Kübler Swiss Absinthe Superiure

Kubler is a Swiss clear absinthe. Not as intense as some more top-shelf absinthe varieties, but smooth and easy to drink; excellent for mixed cocktails. It is my pick for a quality value bottle of absinthe, as it's priced a bit less than most even with a larger 1L vs 750ml size.

Leopold Brothers

The best absinthe I've had comes from a small Denver distillery, Leopold Brothers. The bottle itself speaks to the handcrafted nature of this fine spirit. Intense yet smooth, with a very pronounced botanical aroma from the multitude of herbs infused in the mixture. The best part may be that it costs no more than other top-shelf absinthes, if you can find it (or buy online, see above), but in my opinion is far superior than the current crop of mass-produced spirits.

Lucid, Absente

Other top-shelf absinthes I have found to pack a punch but the intensity is not matched with smoothness. This is most noticeable in the traditional preparation with water. Still, I'd prefer Leopold or Kubler for their particular strengths (botanical complexity and value, respectively).

Absinthe Ordinaire

This bottle I found at a liquor store was suspiciously cheap, less than half the price of top-shelf bottles. While the absinthe flavor was there, it tasted artificial, chemical-derived, rather harsh. I'd rather have a nice bottle of whiskey than a lousy bottle of absinthe for the same price.

Drinks and preparation

The typical Green Fairy (la Fee Verte) preparation begins by pouring a shot of absinthe over a sugar cube suspended on a special straining spoon over a special glass. You can light the alcohol-soaked sugar cube on fire to impress your friends, or skip the pyrotechnics. Cold water is poured (traditionally out of a decanter) over the sugar cube, putting out the fire and breaking up the sugar. The spoon is then used to mix the drink and finish dissolving the sugar. There are pictures on the net of course.
Of course this doesn't really require a fancy spoon, glass, or water distiller. I prefer to skip the sugar cube, and simply pour a shot of absinthe in a lowball cocktail glass, add chilled filtered water "to desired strength". (Don't forget to appreciate the "louche" as the mystical cloud swirls around in your drink).

Ginger ale and absinthe, "La Fee Fizz" ? Yep, that's it. Tasty, very green, the ginger and licorice taste blends very well.

Orange Juice and absinthe, the Screwed Fairy™. A favorite of my wife's, though I forget which one of us coined the name for it. Like a screwdriver, but with absinthe instead of vodka. A great way to start the day!

We've had many other excellent and more involved cocktails made with absinthe, notably at Boulder's Absinthe House and at Mario's Double Daughter's Salotto in Denver, but those above are more suitable for home enjoyment.