Why not? Because for the December 15, 2010 issue of Wine Enthusiast magazine, I reviewed Absinthe. (As usual, you can pick up a copy at the newsstand, or view it in digital format on Zinio.) Here’s what I learned about the Green Fairy:
1. Everyone wants to tell you how to drink it. What do I mean, “I did not make new friends”? The (lengthy) answer is this: For the most part, absinthe is the only spirit designed NOT to be consumed in unadulterated form. It’s very high proof, and most distillers rightly expect you to dilute it with water. But many have extremely specific thoughts about how that water should be added, and how much water should be added. “Season to taste” is often discouraged.
However, instructions printed on bottle labels, and in marketing materials and elsewhere, often provide conflicting sets of instructions. “Add water. Add sugar. Don’t add sugar. Don’t set it on fire. Use this a 3-to-1 water to absinthe ratio. No, use a 5-to-1 ratio. Etc etc etc.” So what’s a tippler to do?
One distiller even flatly refused to send a sample unless I did my tasting supervised by them, since “we’re not convinced you know how to properly taste absinthe.” (I passed on the sample.) My thoughts? If your product requires a tour guide and an interpreter, there might be something wrong.
After I got over my “quit telling me what to do” snit, I arrived at this conclusion: If you’re given clear instructions, it’s best to follow them, which is what I did for the purposes of evaluation. After all, if you were judging pre-packaged macaroni & cheese, wouldn’t you follow the directions on the package for best results? And some of the products really are formulated specifically for a particular reconstitution “recipe.” Unfortunately, not all of the instructions are clear. In that scenario, I’m back to “season to taste.”
And heaven help you if your taste differs from the recommended “recipe.” As a home cook, I was always taught that a recipe is merely a guideline, and that improvisation is always encouraged: the best recipe is the one you like to eat. I hear this from bartenders, too: the best drink is the one made the way you like to drink it.
2. One further wrinkle: Most cocktail recipes including absinthe use it in undiluted form. Yes, you’re diluting it with the other ingredients in the drink, but you’re not first adding five parts water and THEN mixing it with say, gin, orange juice and grenadine (Monkey Gland variation). So in addition to the diluted form, I insisted on sampling absinthe straight up in order to evaluate it as a potential cocktail ingredient. Absinthe distillers did NOT appreciate that, even though I felt it was an important consideration for bartenders and home cocktail enthusiasts.
3. Louching is cool. It’s like an excuse to play with your food.
4. Many spirits have a very specific place designation: i.e. Scotch comes from Scotland. Mezcal comes from Mexico. But absinthe comes from EVERYWHERE! Not just France, which is what I had assumed. Day 1 of tasting alone saw absinthes from Washington State (U.S.), Austria, Spain, and of course, France.
5. I was also surprised to see how much color can vary, from clear to yellow-green to pale sea-foam green to deep, mossy, murky forest green. Thank goodness Crayola prepared me well to describe absinthe colors!
P.S.: (Yes, I’m aware the photo at left shows undiluted absinthe. Want to give me crap for that? You know where to find the Reply box…go ahead, knock yourself out… Or alternatively, be constructive & suggest an absinthe or absinthe cocktail you like!)