Friday, August 14, 2009
Absinthe Makes the Heart Go Wander
"The Green Fairy. " The first time I ever heard or read this term was in the film Bram Stoker's Dracula. Honestly, the word "absinthe" itself I'd come across, but knew little or nothing about the substance. Yeah, it was some kind of alcoholic drink, one illegal and with some kind of special allure.
Within the last two years, however, I attended a party by someone who was actually serving absinthe. Honestly, that was something of a surprise but not a big one. After all, we've all been present when pot was smoked right? But actually, turns out the laws changed and absinthe is currently legal within the United States.
Michael Savage, incidentally, regards this as somehow un-American. Go figure.
Anyway, my first taste of absinthe was very nice. Very nice indeed. Yeah, this stuff is strong and has quite a kick. But absinthe is supposed to be 'cut' with water and sugar, so I simply added more. If you're interested, it tastes rather like black licorice, or anise. The effect was very interesting as well. Mind you, no one would call me a heavy drinker. But the "buzz" of absinthe is quite pleasant, neither drowsy nor short-circuit-the-brain but rather a kind of hyper-awareness. In later parties, I tasted a variety of different types, and the quality I find myself looking for most in absinthe is frankly "smoothness."
I also made the mistake of buying some from the Czech Republic. Ick. Not smooth. No, not at all.
Many, it seems, have their image of absinthe and its preparation from the motion picture From Hell. One of these days I'll post something on this blog about Jack the Ripper, including the so-called "Royal Masonic Theory" which is at the heart of this film. For the record, let me say the acting overall is very good, and the production design impressive indeed. I enjoyed watching this flick.
But the absinthe prep was all wrong.
In the movie, Johnny Depp's Inspector Abberline is something of a psychic. He takes absinthe to spark/enhance his visions. Okay. Yet note what he does: Filling a glass with water, he places a cube of sugar on what is called an "absinthe spoon" then proceeds to pour the absinthe over the sugar cube into the glass. While unconventional, this isn't really that odd. What he does next is borderline nuts. He lights the sugar cube with a match.
Now, think about this for a second. How clever is it to place an open flame near something that is 75 proof or more? And when you do this, the alcohol is burning away, yes? Now consider for a moment what this does to the taste of the sugar!
What should you do? The classic method, illustrated here, involves some specialized equipment, not totally needed IMHO. You need a fairly ordinary glass into which you pour about one inch (or two fingers) of absinthe--which is usually (but not always) green in color (hence the nickname). Place the slotted spoon atop said glass (honestly, a carefully balanced fork will work as well) with the number of sugar cubes to taste. At least one. Having something of a sweet tooth, I take a minimum of two. If the stuff is really, really strong I'll put three or even four.
There exists a marvelous device called an Absinthe Fountain to regulate the constant drip of ice water onto the sugar and into the glass. Such fountains cost plenty of money, so the good news is that almost any container of water will work--a carafe, for example, or a simple bottle. But the water should be ice cold. This will take time. Be patient.
Or, you can do what I saw done by the bartender at Bar Sinister (a gothic bar in Hollywood). She put ice and some sugar cubes in a glass with some absinthe, added water then shook it like a martini. For the record, they have very good absinthe at Bar Sinister. If you go, order the "Red Fairy." Absinthe mixed with red vodka and a splash of cranberry juice. Delicious!
Also for the record, the "Lucid" brand in the illustration above? I've tasted it and the flavor was a tad harsh for my palate. Not recommended.
Absinthe.com (warning: site contains nudity)
Absinthe Buyer's Guide
Absinthe in New Orleans
Jade Absinthes (from France)