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The Road Less Traveled: Absinthe & The Green Fairy
The Road Less Traveled: Absinthe & The Green Fairy
I have recently been spending time in New York City again, and enjoying the city's nightlife in various bars and cafes. I am always up for trying new things and have been known to drink the occasional "Versinthe" or "Absinth" which is the only legal version of Absinthe one can legally be served in any bar in the United States. While I tend to be an advocate of tradition and would have preferred to have the real stuff, I can't expect something that I can't have. With that said, I drank my Versinthe and it enjoyed it just fine.
Absinthe in most of its incarnations (even the fake stuff) contains at least some Anise, which is what gives it its famous louche. Anise has a black licorice flavor which is something that I have never cared for. I have tried many anise infused drinks and never really enjoyed them. So I can't tell you my surprise when I enjoyed drinking the Versinthe. It was flavorful and rich and while it contains a high percentage of alcohol, it lacked the painful burn associated with highly alcoholic potables. I was inspired.
I am a curious soul. Enjoying the Versinthe, I felt compelled to discover what the real thing would be like. Add to the fact that real Absinthe is illegal in the U.S., and it only added fuel to the quest to get a bottle of this notorious spirit.
Fast forward many months; I have been getting more and more into real Absinthe. I started with a bottle of LaBleu Clandestine from Switzerland and was nonplussed by its rich, smooth, and delicious structure. I was hooked. The Versinthe I used to enjoy couldn't even compare to the La Clandestine. Being hooked, I had to reach out and sample more of what the Absinthe making world was producing. I next sought out a bottle of Verte de Fougerolles from France. It's soft green color, like a rich olive oil was mesmerizing and it louched with an opaque and lovely pale green.
I came across a passage by Marcel Pagnol as written in The Time of Secrets and I thought it was worthy of reprinting here. It's a description of the absinthe ritual as it was 'back in the day':
"The poet's eyes suddenly gleamed. Then, in deep silence, began a kind of ceremony. He set the glass (a very big one) before him, after inspecting its cleanliness. Then he took the bottle, uncorked it, sniffed it, and poured out an amber coloured liquid with green glints to it. He seemed to measure the dose with suspicious attention for, after a careful check and some reflection, he added a few drops.
He next took up from the tray a kind of small silver shovel, long and narrow, in which patterned perforations had been cut. He placed this contrivance on the rim of the glass like a bridge, and loaded it with two lumps of sugar. T hen he turned towards his wife: she was already holding the handle of a 'guggler,' that is to say a porous earthenware pitcher in the shape of a cock, and he said:
'Your turn, my Infanta!'
"Placing one hand on her hip with a graceful curve of her arm, the Infanta lifted the pitcher rather high, then, with infallible skill, she let a very thin jet of cool water--that came out of the fowls beak--fall on to the lumps of sugar which slowly began to disintegrate.
"The poet, his chin almost touching the table between his two hands placed flat on it, was watching this operation very closely. The pouring Infanta was as motionless as a fountain, and Isabelle did not breathe.
In the liquid, whose level was slowly rising, I could see a milky mist forming in swirls which eventually joined up, while a pungent smell of aniseed deliciously refreshed my nostrils.
Twice over, by raising his hand, the master of ceremonies interrupted the fall of the liquid, which he doubtless considered too brutal or too abundant: after examining the beverage with an uneasy manner that gave way to reassurance he signalled, by a mere look, for the operation to be resumed.
Suddenly he quivered and, with an imperative gesture, definitely stopped the flow of water, as if a single drop more might have instantly degraded the sacred potion."
"Today, modern absinthes are often marketed in conjunction with the so-called Bohemian absinthe ritual. This is not a traditional method, but a modern innovation inspired by the success of popular culture, trendy bars and the such. A shot of absinthe is poured into a glass, and a teaspoonful of sugar is dipped into it. The alcohol soaked sugar is set alight and allowed to burn until it bubbles and caramelises. The spoon of melted sugar is then plunged into the absinthe and stirred in, which usually sets the absinthe itself alight. Ice water is then poured in, dousing the flames. This method, has become increasingly popular, especially since it was shown in the film Moulin Rouge, but is a historical travesty, and would have horrified any Belle Epoque absintheur."
-European Production Absintheur
7/10/2006 12:56 am
I've been enthralled by the allure of Absinthe ever since discovering Henry Miller and the expat writer's of the 30's. Someday I'd love to discover the truth for myself. |
Thanks...a very interesting and inspiring read!!!