A Lesson In Absinthe

labsinthe3For understandable reasons, the spirit of absinthe confounds most people in America.  First – there is the legend: Absinthe will drive you crazy.  It will cause you to make great art! Then – to the factual inaccuracies: It’s illegal!  It has hallucinogenic properties! absinthepicBut, to be fair, there’s little surprise for this confusion as there has not really been a lot of opportunity for the true story to have had it’s effect and work upon the propaganda.  Do you remember your first conversations about absinthe? Probably, these conversations revolved around how it was illegal, how it’s this terrible stuff that one has to light on fire in order to fine SOME appreciation, how it’ll get you high…

Well…sadly – here’s the reality.  A) You’ll only be crazy after drinking absinthe if you already were a bit daft beforehand, and, B) your art sure will not get any better after you’re into a few cups.  But, like all good stories – the legend survives.  Fantasy trumps reality, fiction overwhelms fact.

What IS the story with Absinthe?

Well, that’s the question that the intrepid foot-soldiers of the Washington State Bartender’s Guild chose to ask themselves.  And, in order to get to that answer, we decided to produce an event and educate ourselves and our customers.  This effort resulted in a forum called Absinthe In America, hosted by Paul Clarke and Gwydion Stone.  At this forum, Paul and Gwydion led the discussion which they reprised from last year’s class that they led at Tales of the Cocktail, “a culinary and cocktail festival features award-winning mixologists, authors, bartenders, chefs and designers in the New Orleans French Quarter at five days of cocktail events“.  At our event, over 80 people were lucky enough to be able to listen to not just these two experts, but also a number more of the world’s most knowledgeable people concerning absinthe.  In attendance and also getting a chance to speak was Ted Breaux, often referred to as the father of modern absinthe, a term which I am sure he’d find unappealing…but…one can’t disown their own legend.

Wow.  Where to start…?

OK.  First of all, let’s go over the basics.  Let’s separate that fact from fiction.  Let’s impart some reality to this fiction:

  1. Absinthe is legal.
  2. Absinthe won’t drive you crazy.
  3. Absinthe should not be burnt in order to prepare the drink.
  4. Absinthe is made in America – and; yes, it’s the same stuff…

herbsWhy, in late ’07, was absinthe all of a sudden allowed back into our country after 95 years, since it was made illegal 1912?  There are plenty of stories.  One entertaining story is that because of the WTO and trade agreements between our countries, the Swiss – the country where Kubler Absinthe is made – forced our government to allow the importation of Swiss absinthe, threatening a case in the WTO courts.  And, thus – absinthe was again legal.  But, the more believable story is simply that the Swiss-made Kubler Absinthe, for four years pushed the process.  During this period, there were many ridiculous requests by our Alcohol and Tobacco Tax Bureau (TTB) – simply because,

For decades “everybody knew” (wrongly) it was bad, illegal stuff – without looking at it in a fair, clear-headed manner.

At one point TTB summarily urged us to “delete all references to absinthe because it’s a drug term (no matter how spelled).”Jared Gurfein

And, Jared Gurfein should know.  He’s the American attorney who for four years marched slowly through the governmental process in order to finally get absinthe to our market,

it was knowing deep down that it’s all a huge misunderstanding, a historical accident not supported by facts or logic or law.

Finaabsinthefountain1lly, on a beautiful, green-tinted day in late ’07 – Kubler Absinthe was finally given the final green-light to sell their products legally here in the US of A.  Four years.  Four long years.  Thousands of lawyer-hours later (that’s around three hours and sixteen minutes in human time), meeting after meeting with government agencies and their blank stares, pages and pages of ill-researched stories masquerading as history.  Oh – the fun they must have had!  They worked hard for four years, so we can only imagine how the Kubler people felt three days after they got their Absinthe here in America when Lucid just waltzed right in and started selling their absinthe…

OK.  So, you have this bottle of Absinthe…

Well, in terms of Absinthe – the world’s now your oyster.  There are now over 80 brands legally sold in America…but what to do with them?  What does one DO with Absinthe!?  I mean, you go to the store and plunk down…oh, say…$75 for St. George Absinthe.  Or, $80 for Absinthe Marteau or Absinthe Pacifique.  Maybe a reasonable $60 for Lucid…  What does one now DO with it?

Well, let’s just get this out of the way…don’t just pour it into a glass and drink it.  Trust me.  That’d do you no good except as a story when you is having one of those ‘the most stupid things that I have ever done‘ conversations with friends.  It’ll  hurt. A lot.  Generally speaking, real Absinthe is around at least 60% alcohol – and if you need guidance here…that’s a lot of alcohol.  That vodka you drink?  40%.  Whiskey?  45 to maybe 50%.  But, absinthe puts them all to shame.  So – you can’t just put it on ice and knock it back.

Here’s the deal, and let’s get this major issue of the way:

  • No, don’t light absinthe on fire.  Just – don’t.  Knock it off.  This was a trend started in the late 90’s in the Prague nightclubs.  I mean, what’s more fun when you’re drugged-up, drunk and dancing till dawn than to see a bartender light something on fire!?  Well, don’t do it.  All that does is…well…nothing.  MAYBE it changes the taste a little bit, but you’ll be doing something stupid and unwarranted to a spirit just like the how the Chinese will take a great old whisky and pour it over a bunch of ice.  Don’t be an idiot like them.

See what I mean?  Not bright.

(Please click on this link if you like, “Absinthe In One Hand…Now What?” to read the next post in this series.)

3 Responses to “A Lesson In Absinthe”

  1. Charles Benedict Davenport Says:

    >Don’t be an idiot like them.

    Yeah those guys that pour whisky over “a bunch of ice”, the Chinese, or those guys that set fire to absinthe, the Czechs, what a bunch of idiots. Look forward to reading more of your “burning cross” style of writing.

    (a work in progress – check back for more…)

    Can’t wait….

  2. […] cocktails. And if you like to read (and I hope you do), I suggest checking out Alcohology’s A Lesson in Absinthe while you sip the first drink. It’s filled with good info, much of which is from the awesome […]

  3. […] Alcohology A Hands On Study Of Alcohol « A Lesson In Absinthe […]

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