Friday, 10 October 2014

Interview with Philippe Chapon at the 2014 Absinthiades


The first weekend in October? It must be time for the Absinthiades, the annual absinthe festival in Pontarlier, France. Sadly I couldn't go (the following week was already hectic enough with the Bar Convent Berlin and the London Cocktail Week). But as we say in England, every cloud (we have a lot here) has a silver lining since my absence provides me an opportunity to have a guest writer, Maxime Ruby. Maxime has his own excellent absinthe blog and who has just started a new French Absinthe Forum. I am delighted to bring you his interview with Philippe Chapon, the president of the organisers of the Absinthiades. It is in French but Google Translate copes with it well.

Merci, Maxime!

................................................................

Cette année c’est sous le soleil de Franche comté que ce sont déroulées les 14èmes absinthiades à Pontarlier ; l’occasion, cette fois encore de se rassembler autour de l’absinthe et de rencontrer des passionnées de tout horizon pendant un week-end. Visites de musée, des distilleries, rencontres avec des collectionneurs, des auteurs, dégustations, les activités ne manques pas pendant la manifestation.
Cette année j’en ai profité pour poser quelques questions à Philippe Chapon, le président de l’association des amis du musée de Pontarlier, organisatrice de l’évènement.

Comment est née l’association des amis du musée de Pontarlier ?

L’association a été créé en 1983, à l’époque il n’y avait pas encore de musée, on était en pleine réorganisation du musée municipale  et l’on était plus autour de la peinture franc-comtoise et l’archéologie.  Nous avions quelques objets sur l’absinthe mais très peu. Et puis avec le temps nous avons eu quelques donateurs et cette association permettait aux gens de donner, car on ne pouvait pas donner directement au musée. Aujourd’hui, si cette association était dissoute, tout ce qu’elle a pu acquérir serait reverser au musé de Pontarlier. Donc c’est vraiment, au départ, une association crée pour recevoir les dons. L’absinthe est ressortie des placards  petit à petit même si elle était dans la mémoire des gens, mais il faut reconnaitre qu’il n’y avait pas la même implication qu’en Suisse. On buvait de l’absinthe mais elle venait plutôt du val-de-Travers. On avait bien quelques personnes à Pontarlier ou aux alentours qui distillaient mais ça n’était pas aussi organisé qu’en Suisse. Depuis 1983, il y a eu trois présidents de cette association, je suis donc le troisième.

Comment a commencé l’aventure des absinthiades?

En 2000 l’idée a été de remettre l’absinthe à l’honneur. Aux premières absinthiades en 2000, il ‘y avait pas d’absinthe, ça n’était pas possible à l’époque. A cette époque, si ma mémoire est bonne, en France nous avons l’Absente et la Versinthe qui sont sur le marché, c’est tout ; donc en 2000 c’est surtout une exposition 



avec des objets des collectionneurs, des auteurs ; et le public est là c’est un succès. Dès la deuxième édition on introduit le premier concours avec une dizaine d’absinthes, surtout des macérés et très peu de distillées, pas d’absinthe suisse jusqu’en 2005. Aujourd’hui nous sommes à la 14ème édition et donc à la 13eme édition du concours ; les Absinthes Suisse sont là depuis la légalisation en 2005, les deux premiers qui ont accepté de venir sont Kubler et Claude Alain Bugnon qui à l’époque a créé un produit spécialement pour la France du aux règlementations différents sur le taux de frenchonne entre la France et la Suisse ; il avait donc crée la recette « Marianne » adaptée au marché français. C’était également une volonté d’introduire l’absinthe Suisse sur la Marché Français.

Parallèlement à ces Absinthiades le maire de Pontarlier le secrétaire de la région du val de travers nous avaient réuni suisse et français, conservateurs de musée, représentant municipaux, cultivateurs et l’office du tourisme en nous disant de réfléchir à ce que l’on pourrait faire à propos de l’absinthe, et de réfléchir à ce qui nous réunit. Et qu’est-ce qui nous réunit ? C’est une histoire commune. Personne ne nie que le berceau historique est le Val-de-Travers et le berceau économique c’est Pontarlier. L’un sans l’autre n’aurait pas existé. Donc ce que l’on a imaginé c’est 


le Pays de l’absinthe avec cette route de l’absinthe […] aujourd’hui les absinthiades sont une des manifestations importante de cette route de l’absinthe, et j’espère qu’il y en aura d’autres.

Ça fait environ une quinzaine d’années que l’absinthe est réapparue sur le marché Français, pensez-vous que l’absinthe est en phase de se « repopulariser » ?

Je crois qu’il faut rappeler, qu’au début, on partait de zéro, donc certes, aujourd’hui c’est une niche, mais je pense que cette niche peut progresser ; la preuve, c’est qu’en Suisse aujourd’hui, il me semble qu’il y a environ 35 distillateurs. Aujourd’hui au concours, il y a une absinthe qui venait de Bretagne, des allemands, des tchèques. Ce produit, à mon avis, a un avenir devant soi, mais comment il sera consommé, ça c’est le débat. Est-ce qu’on essaie de rester dans le traditionnel ? Certains barman nous disent qu’on peut faire des cocktails avec. Le  produit a plusieurs cadres. Après c’est aussi le travail des distillateurs…



Comment se sont déroulées les absinthiades de cette année de votre point de vue ?

Ça se passe bien, puisque depuis vendredi soir il y a du monde. Il y a du passage sur les différents sites que ce soit à l’exposition, au musée, à la chapelle. Hier nous aurions pu doubler le jury populaire, beaucoup de gens se proposaient en cas de désistement, donc c’est un moment fort, peut-être que pour les 15ème on doublera le nombre de participants. Moi ce qui me plait toujours c’est qu’il y a qu’il y a des gens qui viennent de partout, des quatre coin de France mais aussi des tchèques, un journaliste  allemand, un japonais, des finlandais. L’idée c’est ça, que les gens viennent, se rencontrent ; distillateurs, amateurs, bloggeurs, absintheurs peu importe comme ils se définissent, que les gens viennent pendant ce week-end et que pendant 2 jours ça vive, et je pense que la-dessus l’objectif est rempli.

L’année prochaine, nous serons en 2015, cela fera un siècle que l’absinthe a été interdite en France. Est-ce que vous prévoyez quelque chose de spécial pour l’occasion?

Oui, on essaiera de booster un peu cette manifestation, de faire quelque choses d’original pour le centenaire. Ensuite les choses restent à définir, mais c’est bien notre idée. Mais il ya aussi une question de moyens financiers, c’est parfois difficile d’inviter des gens, de payer les transports et les hébergements et tout ce qui va avec.

Dernière question, que souhaiteriez-vous faire passer comme message aux personnes qui ne connaissent pas l’absinthe, pour essayer de les inciter à s’y intéresser?

Ah, c’est une bonne question. Déjà aller sur des blogs comme celui-ci, de s’intéresser aux lieux où les gens discutent sur internet, même si parfois on a pu avoir des critiques un peu dures sur les absinthiades ou sur les produits présentés, même si nous tentons d’être le plus rigoureux possible sur les méthodes de choix et de déroulement du concours. A travers ce qui se passe sur internet, quand par exemple les gens parlent d’un bouquin de benoit Noel ou lorsqu’ils découvrent une  nouvelle bouteille, je souhaite puis qu’ils aient envie de voir ou ça se passe, d’où ça vient, qu’ils découvrent le jura, qu’ils passent en suisse ; lorsque les touristes viennent dans le jura, ils le disent : « c’est beau » ; et puis ils peuvent découvrir plein de choses y compris ce produit. Mais lorsqu’on parle de la région,  on peut se dire « des montagnes, il y en a partout, du fromage, il y en a partout, des salaisons, de la neige, c’est  pareil » le Jura est une montagne parmi les autres ;  mais cette Absinthe… il n’y a que nous, le Jura franco-Suisse.


As a footnote, I wanted to add that for many absinthe lovers, the Absinthiades is about "bohomie," and sharing the pleasures of absinthe together. As seen above! And of course the famous competition. In 2014 the top awards went to


 a hitherto unknown blanche (La Harde 68) and a surprising verte (Cherry Rocher). Again the Absinthiades produced a controversial result, which will no doubt be discussed elsewhere!

Next year sees the 15th Absinthiades. If you haven't visited this before, then maybe it's time to go in 2015. Merci, Philippe. Et merci, Maxime.  



Sunday, 1 June 2014

"A cocktail is much improved by the addition of two or three drops of Absinthe."



James Fowler, World Class UK Bartender of the Year 2014

C.F. Lawlor's "The Mixicologist" provides one of the first versions of the Absinthe Suissesse (an adapted version of which I enjoyed last year at New York's Dead Rabbit):


The Mixicologist also contains the famous quote about absinthe in the title of this post: "A cocktail is much improved by the addition of two or three drops of Absinthe." Of course Lawlor's Suissesse contains far more than two or three drops, so don't feel limited by the quote!

Fast forward 119 years, and Gaz Regan writes in the Regan Report 2014 (quoted here) that absinthe is a "very important ingredient” in the bartender’s tool chest. “Apart from the fact that it pairs so well to both Scotch and to mescal — both known for their smoky characters — absinthe, when used judiciously, can bring fabulous nuances to cocktails that can be gotten from no other source.”

From time to time, I come across bartenders who are not fully convinced about absinthe. In some cases, that seems to be down to bad experiences bartenders have had with absinthe in the past, and that seems to be especially true in markets where the Czech-style of "absinth" appeared before the real absinthe that is now more globally dominant. Or they see that absinthe is burnt and/or shot in other bars, and they don't want to encourage practices like that in their own bar. 

So how can I convince bartenders and those making cocktails at home that absinthe can add so much to a cocktail? By quoting Lawlor and Regan? Well, that's one way, but "theory" is not as effective as "practice." And over the last month I have seen two great examples of world class practice (literally "World Class"), using absinthe in cocktails that have helped their creators win two of the top prizes in the cocktail world globally. 

I have written previously about the Maid in Cuba cocktail created by Tom Walker at The Savoy for the Bacardi Legacy competition. As Tom said, the inclusion of absinthe makes this a more mature and more interesting alternative to the mojito and the daiquiri, the main drinks which helped inspire the Maid in Cuba, and the audience certainly enjoyed the cocktail at our "Savoy's Green Fairy Secrets" seminar at Tales of the Cocktail 2013. 

Nine months later, I was one of many following the global final of the Bacardi Legacy competition on Facebook and was thrilled to read of Tom's victory (here's an interview with Tom about the competition and the cocktail). As I read the news unfold on Facebook, I remember thinking that the Maid in Cuba was not just an exceptionally good Bacardi cocktail, but that it was also probably the finest new cocktail with absinthe to come from the Savoy since Harry Craddock's Corpse Reviver #2. Of course there are other new cocktails with absinthe available at the Savoy including Erik Lorincz's Monet's Moment, but I suspect the Maid in Cuba is already much more famous. So I was delighted to see that the Maid in Cuba will appear in new editions of the Savoy Hotel Cocktail Book. And here's the proof (in more ways than one!):


Tom is a highly motivated, detail-obsessed bartender and maybe his time at the Savoy has given him a special understanding of absinthe. However Tom is definitely not unique in appreciating what absinthe can do for cocktails.

Today after a week of competition in London and in Hong Kong, the UK winner of the Diageo World Class competition was announced. James Fowler of The Larder House, Southbourne (near Bournemouth) has been a long-term fan of good absinthes, and hosted our first Absinthe Dinner at The Larder House on Valentine's Day, 2012. Later that year, he and Joel Solomon came to Boveresse for the world's largest Absinthe Festival. James told me that he uses as much absinthe as vodka in his restaurant and bar, a fascinating statistic, especially given that it is not positioned as an absinthe outlet.

James progressed through the early stages of Diageo's World Class with his speciality cocktail, Copper Colours. Here's the recipe:-

Mixing Glass filled to the top with fresh cubed ice
Add the following to the mixing glass in the order below:-
1.25 ml Butterfly Absinthe
20 ml Pacharan
20 ml Lepanto Olorosso Spanish brandy
40 ml Ketel One
Stir with bar spoon to chill & dilute. 50 revolutions.
Strain into chilled glass
Serve with Iberico Jamon, borage and burnt tangerine segment salad



(photo of James and his prize-winning cocktail from the Bournemouth Echo)

Over the course of a whole week in London and Hong Kong, James and the other finalists had to do far more than just preparing one cocktail (e.g. food pairing), but this speciality cocktail was a key element in James progressing to the later stages. James shows a keen appreciation of what absinthe can bring to cocktails (as well as to food), even if only in dashes. Congratulations, James!

Two great examples of prize-winning bartenders in the UK making good use of absinthe in amazing cocktails. But there are many more prize-winning bars around the world which feature absinthe as an important part of their mix. Here are just a few of the finalists from this year's Spirited Awards at the Tales of the Cocktail that make very good use of absinthe:

The Nightjar (London)
Big Easy, Covent Garden (London)
Dead Rabbit (New York)
The Anvil (Houston)
Cure and Hotel Bellocq (New Orleans)
Canon (Seattle)
Spare Room (Los Angeles)
Clive's Classic (Victoria)
Black Angel's (Prague)
Widder Bar and Old Crow (Zurich)

If you're a bartender and don't currently use good absinthe, maybe you could consider why do all these top bars (and many more) make such good use of absinthe. If you make cocktails at home and don't have absinthe, well, it's almost like being a cook without having salt and pepper.

Congratulations to Tom and James! Good luck to all the nominees at Tales of the Cocktail! And to all future potential prize-winners and those of you striving to make great cocktails at home!
Nin

Friday, 28 February 2014

Absinthe Days and Mardi Gras


I blogged about Absinthe Days in 2012, noting that March 5 had been designated National Absinthe Day in the USA at Lucid's instigation and that March 1 was being celebrated in Switzerland as their Absinthe Day.

March 5, 2007 was the day when Lucid got their final US approval, and coincidentally March 5, 2013 was the day when Pernod got their final label approval for their new "original recipe."

Neither of these dates were celebrated at the time for a variety of reasons, including the fact that products were not actually available in the US to celebrate with.

How very different from March 1, 2005: the day when absinthe was re-legalised in Switzerland after a 95 year absence. There was extensive press and TV coverage ...


The articles above feature both Claude-Alain Bugnon, the first illegal/"clandestine" distiller to go legal, and Yves Kubler.

Parties were held and many green fairies were observed that day in the Val-de-Travers (there may be some videos of the event on YouTube). All in all, it was a crazy day, and judging by videos of the Mardi Gras, it seems the Swiss and the citizens of New Orleans have a lot in common!

So it seems appropriate that in the space of 5 days this year, we can celebrate the Swiss Absinthe Day, Mardi Gras and then the US National Absinthe Day. With all those opportunities to drink, I probably don't need to suggest any more absinthe cocktails!

In fact on Mardi Gras I will be running a consumer event on absinthe in cocktails at London's famous Milk and Honey, and sadly I will not be able to go to London's Mardi Gras event at the NOLA Bar. NOLA, London is the first bar outside North America to win the coveted Seal of the Sazerac. Obviously a Sazerac - or an Absinthe Frappé - would be great way to celebrate any or all of these dates. In fact I will be drinking at least two different versions of the Death in the Afternoon that evening to see how different absinthes work in different ways in the same cocktail. That will be an interesting experiment - and one that I would urge any absinthe lover or bartender to consider.

My own distiller has progressed somewhat since 2005, and thankfully he now has some slightly larger alembics!


Happy Absinthe Days! Happy Mardi Gras!

Wednesday, 5 February 2014

Absinthe makes the heart grow fonder .. or at least makes the cocktail taste better!


Valentine's Day is approaching. Restaurants and bars throughout the world are finalising menus and special drinks list, while consumers are planning (hopefully) a romantic evening with their current or prospective partner.

Enjoying a drink (or two) is usually part of a good Valentine's Day soirée, and absinthe has been an increasingly popular choice for the evening. According to Google, absinthe seems to be more part of Valentine's Day than champagne (Googling  "valentine's day" drink champagne gets 4.2 million results, Googling "valentine's day" drink absinthe gets 13.4 million results). So two questions and then the answers:-

1. What is it about absinthe that makes it so good for Valentine's?
2. How can absinthe be served on Valentine's Day, either in a restaurant/bar or at home?

Let's explore the first question: What is it about absinthe that makes it so good for Valentine's?

Several sites proclaim absinthe's effectiveness as an aphrodisiac.

Some alcoholic beverages are believed to be especially potent. For example, absinthe was a widely used aphrodisiac by Europeans, especially French artists and intellectuals at the end of the 19th century.


Absinthe has often been considered to contain aphrodisiac properties, which heighten sexual desire. In Alfie, the aphrodisiac qualities of absinthe get the title character laid – by none other than Susan Sarandon.

As an absinthe sales/marketing man, I subscribe to the policies of the various regulatory bodies such as Discus USA whose Code of Practice states:-

Beverage alcohol advertising and marketing materials should not rely upon sexual prowess or sexual success as a selling point for the brand. 

So I would never claim that absinthe has any aphrodisiac qualities (sadly there is at least one absinthe brand on sale in the USA which hints that it does). Absinthe's effects, such as they are, come more from its high alcohol content and perhaps there's a placebo effect too ("I've read that it's an aphrodisiac, so it must be.").

Absinthe's best effects are how well it marries, beds down, gets it together with other ingredients in an amazing range of cocktails. Absinthe may not be an aphrodisiac but it is highly promiscuous! Or as C.F. Lawlor wrote in 1895 in The Mixicologist:  

"A cocktail is much improved by the addition of two or three drops of Absinthe."

One could say that absinthe gets to the heart of a cocktail, and makes the cocktail better (well, maybe not fonder). This is what makes absinthe such a good drink for Valentine's (or any other day, indeed).

So what absinthe cocktails will work best for Valentine's?

The classic choice could be absinthe with champagne or sparkling wine, but its name, Death in the Afternoon, isn't very romantic.

I like the idea of absinthe and fizz for Valentine's, and so I suggest a couple of long established fizzes. First, the Morning Glory Fizz which I first enjoyed at the Brompton Bar and Grill in London where this video was made:



The Juice of 1/2 Lemon or 1 Lime.
1/2 Tablespoonful Powdered Sugar.
The White of 1 Egg.
2 Dashes Absinthe
1 Glass Scotch Whisky
Shake well, strain into long tumbler and fill with syphon soda water.


This is in the Savoy but first appeared some 14 years earlier in 1916 in "Recipes for Mixed Drinks" written by Hugo R. Ensslin. Absinthe and smoky whisky work very well together, a point recently made by Gaz Regan in his Regan Report 2014

I first tasted the Sea Fizz cocktail at Death and Co., New York in 2010.

1 1/2 oz Absinthe
Juice 1/2 lemon
1 egg white
1 tsp caster sugar

Shake ingredients for 10 seconds in a cocktail shaker without ice. Add large ice and shake well. Strain into glass and top up with soda water.
According to Erik Ellestad's Savoy Stomp, this first appeared around 1935, created by Frank Meier, at the time of the Gambon Bar, and later of the Ritz in Paris. I cannot find verification of this, although there is a SeaPea Fizz in Meier's book "The Artistry of Mixed Drinks," which omits the egg white (and, given that absinthe was not generally available, specifies "Anis").
I opted for the version in the Savoy Stomp since I recalled how much I had enjoyed it at Death and Co. And I was not disappointed. The egg white helps produce a wonderful foam and it becomes a drink where texture and taste work together really well. I used a blanche (La Clandestine) and  think that works better both in taste and appearance. My wife who doesn't like absinthe generally seemed to enjoy it too.


Since I work in the absinthe sector (business is too grandiose a word for it), I shall not have the luxury of drinking with my wife on Valentine's. Two years ago we enjoyed a great absinthe dinner at The Larderhouse near Bournemouth (mentioned here). This year I will be on duty at a Valentine's event in London. If you're nearby, please come along ... with a partner of course.

It being Valentine's, I shall sign off this time ... Love and xxx ...





Thursday, 23 January 2014

Absinthe Robette re-visited


Absinthe Robette, painted by Belgium-born Henri Privat-Livemont, is one of the most iconic absinthe posters and the pin-up style of the original has attracted collectors, artists and absinthe lovers since 1896. The GIF above, created in 2014 by Challenger 23, is the latest, and it is interesting to see the bubbles in what was originally a classic absinthe serve with chilled water. Maybe Challenger 23 sees the Death in the Afternoon cocktail (absinthe and champagne) as a more suitable drink for the lady in the poster, and that works for me.

A practitioner of deviant art has cleverly re-worked the poster as "Absinthe Robotte."


It has also been re-worked in other materials such as sets of bathroom tiles and this metallic plaque:


Even the Sherlock Holmes of Benedict Cumberbatch has been re-cast in the same posture, but I don't find this nearly as attractive!


What of the absinthe itself? Well, according to Belgian blogger, Stijn Teijssen, Absinthe Robette was the trademark of the Distillerie Petitjean & Cie, founded in Mons, Belgium. This factory also produced fine kirsch, amer and mirabelle. It was the second establishment of Petitjean from Saint-Loup  in the French department of Haute-Saône in the Franche-Comté region. This successful French distillery, led by Mr. Petitjean himself and in succession by his widow Mrs. Robette (hence the name of the Absinthe), counted 52 employees and an astounding 340 representatives in France, Belgium and possibly other countries as well.

Sadly no-one alive today seems to have tasted this absinthe. However, the poster continues to attract artists in all fields and one of the best is the video below. I suggest slipping into something more comfortable, pouring a Death in the Afternoon or two, and enjoying the art and the drink together. Santé!



Saturday, 7 December 2013

Seasonal gifts and cocktails for the absinthe lover



The Christmas and New Year season brings out the best in us .. but also can be a difficult time. In the run-up to Christmas, there's the present-buying frenzy, and then there's all that drinking over the holidays. 

Because absinthe has only become available in the last few years, it is not seen as a natural part of gift-giving or of celebrations (at least not in the same way as a single malt or a glass of champagne). That fact makes absinthe an even more unusual gift or celebration drink for the person "who has everything," so I have scoured the shops to bring you the best gifts, and then I'll consider what to drink.

Those who've read my blog before will know I'm commercially involved in the absinthe sector, and I'll include some products I work on. Since it's the season of goodwill, I'll also include a wider range of products, including several made by my industry colleagues.

Absinthe Gift Guide Part One - Bottles

Lots to choose from but among the most interesting are:-

Butterfly Classic Absinthe, 
numbered and signed by the distiller (US only, limited edition of 1902 bottles available at DrinkUp New York, Hi-Time, Julio's and other good stores in California and Massachusetts). Unsigned bottles are available in Europe (including UK and France) and in Hong Kong, Singapore and Malaysia.

Ridge Absinthes from Montana,

a rarity since the branding will soon be changed to Vilya (available at DrinkUp New York, Catskill Cellars, some branches of BevMo and other good stores)

Marteau Master's Reserve from Seattle, 

which is a relatively new offering, currently in limited distribution in the Pacific North West and via DrinkUp New York and Catskill, and

Jade's 1901

which is available online in Europe and in Jug Shop in San Francisco; other US stockists coming soon for this.

Locally made craft absinthes can now be found in California, Colorado, Illinois, Kentucky, Louisiana, Montana, New Mexico, New York, Pennsylvania, Oregon, South Carolina and Washington, as well as in Suffolk and Leicestershire in the UK. I haven't tasted all of these, so you may want to check the reviews before you buy.

Small bottle stocking fillers make great presents; these include La Clandestine and St. George 200 ml bottles in the USA (BevMo and Massachusetts) and from Whisky Exchange in the UK (Whisky Exchange and The Drink Shop in the UK have big absinthe selections). A 200 ml mixed set of Artemisia Absinthes 


is available from absinthes.com, who also offer a wide range of smaller samples as do Masters of Malt in the UK. The latter even offer a Dramvent Calendar of 24 x 3 cl absinthe samples!



In case you cannot find what you are looking for in your State or country, remember that you may be able to purchase online for shipping within the USA (DrinkUp New York, Catskill Cellars and Hi-Time seem to offer the widest range of States) while in Europe absinthes.com and Liqueurs de France have big assortments, including accessories, which they can ship to many countries. In the USA, Absinthe Devil has the widest range of absinthe accessories, including glasses, spoons and fountains.

All the online shippers are very busy in the run-up to Christmas, so check their delivery timings.

Absinthe Books and Films

Absinthe lovers will also love the great range of books and films available.



it's definitely one of the top absinthe gifts for this year.




remains the best book about absinthe cocktails, although it seems to be in short supply.

The ultimate absinthe book gift is


Chris Buddy's 

Absinthe: The Movie (reviewed here) is available on DVD, or as a download.


Posters and other memorabilia

Absinthe Posters has an excellent of historic posters and postcards

Steampunk artists have created some interesting works with absinthe, notably


San Diego's Winona Cookie. She has a wide range of absinthe pictures available as prints and cards.

Some of David Nathan-Maister's personal collection is available, including photos from the personal archives of the Pernod family 



and a very rare Swiss clandestine distiller's alembic from the 1930's or 40's



Distillery Visits

Several US distilleries advertise tours (notably St. George and Philadelphia Distilling) but many of those who don't advertise tours will be pleased to help. In Europe, Artemisia offer distillery visits via Smartbox.

..........................

Absinthe Cocktails

So once you've finished buying and wrapping presents, it is time to prepare and enjoy an absinthe cocktail or two.

Many people have their own favourite egg nog recipes, so it may be presumptive to suggest another, but this one looks good. Substitute absinthe (I suggest a blanche) for the cognac. Alternatively go to Sage at Aria in Las Vegas for an exceptionally good kitchen-made absinthe egg nog.

Of course Christmas is a time for sparkling drinks. Absinthe and champagne make the classic Death in the Afternoon, but, however bad your Christmas lunch was, that doesn't sound like the right drink for the occasion. I prefer the White Christmas (created for me by Adam Schuman of the Fatty Crab, New York in March 2009):

1/2 oz La Clandestine Absinthe
1/4 oz Simple syrup
1 oz Grapefruit juice
3 dashes St. Elizabeth Allspice Dram (The Bitter Truth Aromatic Bitters can be used instead)
Top up with Prosecco

Adam Schuman's brilliance lies in inverting my suggestion of falling snow with the rising bubbles of the Prosecco, but this is more complex and more interesting than the Death in the Afternoon. Great job, Adam!

So with a cocktail book/video/poster/antique in one hand and a White Christmas cocktail in the other, I'd like to wish all my readers Season's Greetings!



Wednesday, 27 November 2013

Prohibition, repeal, and absinthe



The drink above is currently my favourite cocktail and is one of two I will be drinking on Repeal Day soon. More details of this drink below but first a few words about prohibition and repeal. These are topics that have been very interesting for me since I was responsible for selling alcohol in some Middle East countries

where it was officially banned, and I was also able to observe the effects of prohibition in some States in India. I was living in Delhi at the time and was responsible for selling alcohol (but not absinthe) throughout India. The neighbouring State to Delhi was "dry," meaning alcohol was banned there. We sold a lot to the shops near the border (mm .. where did it all go?!) and had no sales or marketing costs in the dry State, making it very profitable for us. The ban on alcohol in the dry State merely served to whet the appetite of potential customers there.

The long prohibition of absinthe in the USA had a similar effect with many American consumers finding ways to order absinthe online before the ban was finally lifted. Prohibition didn't/doesn't work and merely served/serves to make the banned drinks more intriguing for some.

Indeed the prohibition of absinthe in Switzerland merely drove the whole category underground and is responsible for the birth of some once notorious but now famous absinthe brands such as La Clandestine.


The full story of the birth of La Clandestine in the dark days of the Swiss absinthe ban can be read here.

When it comes to prohibition and repeal, absinthe has the longest history of being banned and is the subject of the most recent repeals. Absinthe was effectively banned in the USA from 1912, 8 years before prohibition. Repeal, whose 80th anniversary is celebrated on December 5, 1933, did not extend to absinthe for another 73 years. Until March 5, 2007, or another 26,753 days to be precise!

So while the US celebrates the 80th anniversary of repeal, absinthe lovers must either mourn all those lost "green hours," or must make up for lost time. I prefer the latter!

So I want to celebrate two events: repeal in general and then the repeal of the absinthe ban. I'll do so with a classic cocktail from the 1920's and 1930's and then with a modern cocktail.

Firstly, what better way to make up for lost time than by trying one (or more) of the absinthe cocktails created to celebrate prohibition and enjoyed in bars like London's Savoy around 1930 while Americans, in theory, were not allowed to drink out in their own country.

The Savoy Cocktail Book mischievously lists a selection of "COCKTAILS SUITABLE FOR A PROHIBITION COUNTRY" which are "for those countries where they make the most of prohibition." This list includes 

Special (Rough) Cocktail
1 Dash Absinthe
1/2 Applejack
1/2 Brandy
Shake well and strain into cocktail glass.

This is not well reviewed in the Savoy Stomp ("The name is pretty accurate"), so I gave it a miss.

Prohibition started in 1920 so it seems fair to assume that these next two cocktails were expressly named to mark prohibition:

Nineteen-Twenty Cocktail
1 Teaspoonful Groseille Syrup
1/6 Pernod Kirsch
1/6 Crystal Gin
2/3 French Vermouth
1 Dash Absinthe
Shake well and strain into cocktail glass.

and

Nineteen-Twenty Pick-Me-Up Cocktail
2/3 Absinthe
1/3 Gin
1 Dash Angostura Bitters
1 Dash Orange Bitters
1 Dash Gomme Syrup
Shake well, strain into medium size wine-glass, and fill balance with soda water.

Given the number of gin, vermouth and absinthe cocktails in the Savoy and the fact that the first of the these two contains just a dash of absinthe, I have focused here on the second. It is also similar to the Absinthe Special Cocktail with the main difference being the soda. I thought it would be interesting to see what the soda brings to the drink.

I made the Nineteen-Twenty Pick-Me-Up using Gloag's Gin (no longer available) from the makers of The Famous Grouse and an absinthe that was directly hit by the US ban on absinthe: Butterfly Absinthe (more of this later). 


This 1920 Pick-Me-Up was strong and refreshing (maybe an unusual combination) and the citrus notes in Butterfly worked well with the gin. This style of cocktail maybe doesn't have the immediate appeal of some modern cocktails but when I close my eyes and sip it, it does indeed feel like the kind of cocktail one could easily have enjoyed at the Savoy in 1930.

The original makers of Butterfly, P. Dempsey of Merrimac Street, Boston, were of course directly affected by prohibition. Patrick Dempsey's son, George, was the Chairman of the Executive Committee of the National Wholesale Liquor Dealers Association of America (try putting that on a business card) and he presented this paper in 1908.



Sadly the efforts of George Dempsey and others were unsuccessful: his absinthe, Butterfly, the only American absinthe for which a bottle and recipe survive, disappeared after 1912 and his distillery closed in 1920 to become, eventually, a car park (a very profitable business in Boston!).

Butterfly Absinthe returned to the USA in autumn 2013 and is now made in Switzerland by a former moonshiner. UK mixologists have had a head start on Butterfly, with some great cocktails already created at the Worship Street Whistling Shop and at One Leicester Street. But the most interesting cocktail I have enjoyed with Butterfly takes me back to India (where this post started). London's Indian restaurant, Gymkhana, which opened in September 2013 to some stunning reviews, offers a Flutterby Lassi (created for them by Fluid Movement's Jon Lister who also created the absinthe cocktails enjoyed here in 2012). A lassi is an Indian drink (usually non-alcoholic) with a yoghurt base that is consumed at the end of a meal to ease digestion. 

The Flutterby Lassi is offered as a digestif and is made as follows:-

FLUTTERBY LASSI
3 dill sprigs
2cm piece cucumber, peeled
35 ml Butterfly absinthe
10ml lime juice
20ml gomme
50ml yoghurt

Muddle the dill and cucumber and pour all the other ingredients into shaker.

Shake and double strain.

Serve in a port wine glass and garnish with a scrolled skin of cucumber and a sprig of dill.


The Flutterby made it onto national British TV, into the Evening Standard's list of London's best cocktails and into several other national newspapers. City AM called the Flutterby a "cultural gem."

The combination of Butterfly (which I consider a digestif-style absinthe) with yoghurt works amazingly well, and the dill and cucumber topped it off perfectly. A great well-balanced taste, refreshing with a smooth creamy mouth-feel (but not at all like a cream liqueur). Despite having a large measure of absinthe in, this is the first absinthe cocktail that my wife has really liked, and even requested again and again (see below). 


Great to see a wonderful absinthe cocktail coming from an Indian restaurant of all places. India has some of the strictest alcohol laws in the world, including prohibition in many areas. Butterfly was created by an American company that fought prohibition and lost, and is now made by a Swiss company that was started as a direct result of and response to prohibition. So in every respect, the Flutterby Lassi is a very appropriate way to celebrate the 80th anniversary of repeal in the USA. Cheers! Santé! अच्छी सेहत!

Monday, 21 October 2013

Absinthe Cocktails for Halloween



Updated October 21, 2014 (exactly one year after the original article)

In the last week, those two great paragons of journalism (Fox News and the UK's Daily Mail) have listed the two cocktails featured in this blog article as being among the most dangerous cocktails in the world. 


The Corpse Reviver # 2 "is dangerous because of absinthe qualities that sometime provoke violence in drinkers or makes them black out."


Death in the Afternoon: "A classic concoction of champagne and absinthe, this mind-blowing luxe cocktail was invented by Ernest Hemingway ... The drink rarely appears in bar menus but can usually be ordered from Sky Bar Kuala Lumpur's bartenders for the princely sum of RM67 (£13)." 

Both these articles demonstrate the journalists' complete ignorance of the drinks. 4 - 8 drops of absinthe in a Corpse Reviver # 2 is not going to provoke violence in drinkers. although the journalist's assertion (that it would) probably did provoke some drinkers to have ideas of violence towards ignorant journalists. 

As for the Death in the Afternoon, is it "mind-blowing" and does it "rarely appear in bar menus?" The second part clearly shows the journalist's ignorance, although full credit is due if he or she managed to get a trip to Malaysia funded by his/her newspaper to find it.

It  is sad to see ignorance like this still being used in the name of "news." Those of us who know the history of absinthe know that it was ignorance like this that led to it being banned in most countries at the start of the 20th century. It is also sad to think that some ignorant drinkers will try these cocktails and maybe several at a time, specifically because they think they are dangerous. Thus making Fox News and the Daily Mail directly culpable of encouraging abuse ...

Now back to your normal programming ...

Original Article October 21, 2013

Halloween is a great time to re-visit another pair of absinthe cocktails: the Corpse Reviver No. 2 and Death in the Afternoon.

The Corpse Reviver No. 2 (like the Corpse Reviver No. 1) is featured in the Savoy Cocktail book and was created by Harry Craddock at the Savoy's American Bar some time before 1930. No. 2 is a more serious proposition than no. 1: here are the ingredients as listed in the Savoy.

1/4 Wine Glass Lemon Juice (3/4 oz)
1/4 Wine Glass Kina Lillet. (3/4 oz)
1/4 Wine Glass Cointreau. (3/4 oz)
1/4 Wine Glass Dry Gin. (3/4 oz)
1 Dash Absinthe.

Shake well and strain into cocktail glass. The book then notes:-

"Four of these taken in quick succession will unrevive the corpse again."

This version appears in the two Absinthe cocktail books published in 2010: A Taste for Absinthe and Absinthe Cocktails. One of only seven cocktails written up in both books, this is obviously an important absinthe cocktail (incidentally these books define the dash of absinthe as being four or eight drops). It's also a favourite of absinthe bloggers and of bars around the world.

I made it using an old, no longer available gin (Gloag's from the makers of Famous Grouse), Combier Triple Sec, Noilly Prat and 8 drops of La Clandestine. And slightly less lemon juice than recommended. It's a very enjoyable and refreshing pick me up.

So for Halloween brunch or lunch, what better way to start the day or to get it going than with this wonderful cocktail!


I was also pleased to see Boston's Royal Sonesta making a ready bottled version!


For more details of this, see the excellent IndulgeInspireImbibe blog.

Here's a video from our friends at Common Man Cocktails showing how to make both Corpse Reviver Cocktails.



And here are some further study notes about the Corpse Revivers from the Bitters and Twisted blog ....

Now onto the Death in the Afternoon cocktail ..



Another classic absinthe cocktail (and one that merits a slight twist to make it even more suitable for Halloween), the famous Death in the Afternoon was invented by Ernest Hemingway. The cocktail shares its name with Hemingway's book Death in the Afternoon, and the recipe was first published in So Red the Nose, or Breath in the Afternoon, a 1935 cocktail book with contributions from famous authors (coincidentally 1935 was the year when La Clandestine Absinthe was born). Hemingway's original instructions were:

"Pour one jigger absinthe into a Champagne glass. Add iced Champagne until it attains the proper opalescent milkiness. Drink three to five of these slowly."


I have always enjoyed Death in the Afternoon, but have also been aware that it might be a little dry for some people's tastes, especially if using a top quality champagne. So I was pleased to have the opportunity to try an interesting variation on this when my US partners visited us in Switzerland and suggested using a Swiss sparkling rosé to make a Death in the Afternoon.


Maybe it was the rosé itself (a little over-powering), or maybe it was the temperature of the rosé (ambient), but although it looks gorgeous, this didn't quite work. So with Halloween approaching, I tried again, this time with a Jacob's Creek sparkling rosé, which is probably easier to find in most countries. And to add some atmosphere, I dug out my daughters' Halloween straws and dimmed the lights ...


First the jigger of La Clandestine Absinthe, then top up with the sparkling rosé (I did top it up, but the members of the tasting panel sampled it before I could take my next photograph).

Nice colour, but maybe for Halloween, it needed a bit more drama. And so I added a few drops of blood ...

a.k.a. Grenadine.

Perfect to look at ...


... and perfect to taste. Not too dry and not too sweet, with the absinthe and sparkling rosé working very well together.

Of course a good cocktail needs a good name. I thought about calling this a Bloody Death in the Afternoon, but that might make people think it contains tomato juice. And for Halloween, I think a murder sounds better than death. It's definitely not an afternoon drink either, hence the final name .. Murder in the Evening. If you like a Death in the Afternoon, I think you'll love this. At Halloween or at any time.

Since not every absinthe lover has a collection of other spirits at home. I thought it might be interesting to see how those who prefer absinthe the classic way can get into the Halloween spirit.


Available from Pinky Diablo for $45 (including free shipping in the USA), these wonderful skull spoons seem to do the job perfectly ..

Santé ... or since the drinks and spoons are for Halloween, we should be satisfied if we can just achieve ... survival!