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Friday, 5 March 2010

Away with the Green Fairies

Well, here's a departure. After over 200 posts on whisky since our inception, we fancied a little foray into something completely different. Today is a special day for one particular spirit. A spirit so controvertial that it has almost become as legendary for its number of critics as for its fans.

Absinthe has been shrouded in mystery, half-truths and rumour for centuries.
With its notoriously high strength, supposed hallucinogenic ingredients and near ritualistic preparation, absinthe had the ability to seduce the drinker and enrapture the soul. It was at the heart of the Belle Époche movement and its mythology surrounds many of our greatest literary and artistic figures. So why did absinthe become such an ‘Enfant Terrible’?

Well, it certainly all became too much for most of continental Europe. In 1915, Absinthe was banned in Switzerland, with France following suite. The magic and romance it had helped to create was over. In the past 100 years it has drifted, fortunately finding a few highly passionate enthusiasts, who have helped to put it back on the (flavour) map.

On this day in 2007, Absinthe was legally allowed to be imported back into the USA. Flags were flown and we imagine that even George Bush probably chased La Fee Vert, hoping for some inspiration. Although it has never been banned here in the UK, there were few really quality Absinthe's out there... until now. Step forward the micro distilleries, Absinthe freaks and age-old swiss recipes and all of a sudden, the spirit is really a force to be reckoned with.

We were lucky enough to receive several bottles of the highest quality French and Swiss absinthes from our new friends at Absinthe Classics. Created by David Nathan-Maister, a veritable (absinthe) fountain of knowledge on the spirit, Absinthe Classics acts as a conduit to many hard-to-find small batch Absinthes from tiny distilleries.

Here are our thoughts on a few of the best:

Doubs Mystique - Carte d'or- (65% vol)

Doubs Mystique "Carte d'or" is an ultra-premium absinthe distilled using century old alembic stills in Pontarlier, the heart of the Doubs region of eastern France and the historical home of French absinthe.

Colour: Light lime green, very natural in appearance. Very slow to louche with the addition of water.

Nose: Light fennel/anise notes, followed by a zesty lemon, diced apple digestive biscuits and a faint toffee aroma. With water some very fresh pine/mint notes emerge

Palate: Subtle aniseed notes, with a warming sweet citrus fruit flavour.

Overall: Superbly balanced and refreshing – a very high quality absinthe indeed.

Roquette 1797 - (75% vol)

A complex, unusual and spicy French absinthe, based directly on a late 18th century manuscript recipe, when the drink straddled the line between liquor and potion.

Colour: light gold, with a faint green tinge. Very slow to louche, still retaining some clarity.

Nose: Vegetative, with an almost roast parsnip note, hints of cumin and a very clean alcohol note.

Palate: Retaining a traditional bitter note from the wormwood with a medicinal flavour. Needs the correct balance of sugar to really shine.

Overall: This is a very uniquely flavoured absinthe, which certainly harks back to the traditional flavours of the past.

Vieux Pontarlier (65% vol)

This historic spirit is distilled using locally grown wormwood, which is considered one the finest in the world. Faithful to original formulations.

Colour: Jade, with a light yellow hue. Relatively quick to louche, with some lovely oily notes emerging in the glass.

Nose: Slightly meaty and savoury, with biscuit notes in its undiluted form. Fresh lime notes and a definite aroma of anise coming through with the addition of water.

Palate: Minty and menthol notes emerge first, followed by bold anise and a mildly bitter, spicy and peppery undertone. Really superb mouth feel.

Overall: Another well-balanced absinthe, with big, bold flavours.

La Clandestine Suisse (53% vol)

A Suisse styled absinthe, made in the birthplace of the spirit, Couvet in the Val-de-Travers region of Switzerland.

Colour: Clear and translucent, with no colouring whatsoever. Quick to louche, with a chalky, white cloudiness.

Nose: Mint, Everton toffee and a slight savoury note in its undiluted form. With water, dusty notes emerge with a clean fennel aroma. Aromatic and well rounded.

Palate: Sweeter than other absinthes, Clandestine requires only a minute addition of sugar- the palate bursts with aniseed flavour, a peppery piquancy which lingers in the mouth for a long time.

Overall: Very different in style to the French absinthes, this is a great introduction to the spirit, and is not overpowering due to its lower alcohol strength.

For more information on all of these Absinthes, check out

Happy Absinthe Day Everyone....