A couple of weeks ago I was visiting my local wine and spirits shop (Spirit World) and I got to talking about the different absinthe that they had for sale. The person I spoke with hadn’t tasted them, but told me that he heard that if I was going to try one, St. George should be that one. I thought about it and decided to do some research.
Now, for those of you who are shocked that I could buy absinthe in a store, well it turns out that the FDA made some changes back in 2007 that allowed absinthe to now be sold in the US. There is still a little bit of a restriction when it comes to the amount of thujone in it, from Wikipedia:
According to the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) food and beverages that contain Artemisia species must be thujone free. Thujone free is defined as containing less than 10ppm thujone. […] In 2007, TTB (Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau) relaxed the US absinthe ban, and has now approved over 50 brands for sale. These brands must pass TTB testing, which is conducted using Gas Chromatography-Mass Spectrometry. The TTB considers a product to be thujone-free if the FDA’s test measures less than 10ppm (equal to 10 mg/kg) thujone.
So what is so bad about thujone? Well, at high enough doses it could kill you, for one. Of course, so could caffeine and alcohol, so why the bad rap? Well, I’ll let Wikipedia explain this one:
Thujone was an unknown chemical until absinthe became popular in the mid 1800s. Dr. Valentin Magnan, who studied alcoholism, tested pure wormwood oil on animals and discovered it caused an epileptic reaction different from plain alcohol. Based on this, it was assumed that absinthe, which contains a small amount of wormwood oil, was more dangerous than ordinary alcohol. Eventually thujone was isolated as the cause of these reactions. Magnan went on to study 250 abusers of alcohol noting that those who drank absinthe had epileptic attacks and hallucinations. In light of modern evidence, these conclusions are questionable and probably based on a poor understanding of other chemicals and diseases and were clouded by Magnan’s belief that alcohol and absinthe were “degenerating” the French race.
After absinthe was banned, research dropped off until the 1970s when Nature magazine published an article comparing the molecular shape of thujone to THC, and hypothesized it would act the same way on the brain, sparking the myth that thujone is a cannabinoid.
As you can see, it is false to believe that this chemical will cause the issues people used to blame on absinthe, yet it still persists. When I mentioned that I was going to drink absinthe, my sister-in-law (among others) panicked and told me how horrible it was and how it could make me insane. It is sad that this myth still exists to this day. Common sage has more thujone in it than absinthe and no one freaks out about that. So, for those wondering, St. George’s absinthe does have thujone in it, but not more than 10 mg/kg.
So, back to my story… I was very interested in trying absinthe and decided that I would give St. George Spirits a try. Now, the cool thing about St. George is that they also make Hangar One, which is my favorite vodka, hands down. Another neat thing is that they are the company that helped make absinthe legal in the US again… really! Here’s the article:
Earlier this year, a lone Washington, D.C., lawyer took on the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau in an attempt to lift the ban. After some legal wrangling, the agency agreed – with some limits.
Last week, St. George Spirits of Alameda received the news that, after seven applications, the federal agency had approved its label, the final obstacle before going to market. On Monday, the small artisan distillery sold its token first bottle, becoming the only American company since 1912 to sell absinthe in the United States. […]
For 11 years [Lance] Winters experimented, adding a little of this and little of that. No matter how close he came to perfection, each new batch had to be dumped down the drain to comply with federal dictate. But come Dec. 21, St. George will begin selling 3,600 bottles of its Absinthe Verte.
Cool, huh? They also have a neat video on their site discussing what absinthe means to them and such which you can view here. You can tell they are really proud of this stuff. I ended up getting in touch with them and procured myself a sample of the emerald elixir to finally try.
When I popped out the cork the initial smell was a very pleasant “licorice” smell from the star anise, fennel and other herbs contained in the liquor. I decided that my first taste of absinthe should be done in the “traditional” way with ice water, a sugar cube and a slotted spoon.
The classic French absinthe ritual involves placing a sugar cube on a flat perforated spoon, which rests on the rim of the glass containing a measure or “dose” of absinthe. Iced water is then very slowly dripped on to the sugar cube, which gradually dissolves and drips, along with the water, into the absinthe, causing the green liquor to louche (“loosh”) into an opaque opalescent white as the essential oils precipitate out of the alcoholic solution. Usually three to four parts water are added to one part of 68% absinthe.
This is the method I used as you can see below:
It was pretty cool to see the absinthe slowly louche as the water slowly dripped in… not something I had ever seen before. So, how did it taste? I won’t lie, the first thing you get is a strong licorice flavor, but there are a lot of subtle flavors behind the scenes with this. Jess, who hates anise flavored things, actually thought it was okay to drink (though the smell overpowered her a bit). As you swallow you get other “grassy” flavors, I also get a hint of basil and mint among other things I just can’t place. It is very good and for someone who doesn’t drink much, it is something I could see myself drinking on the weekends and just sipping throughout the night. Because of how strong the absinthe is, I decided to wait until the next day to try another drink. This time I thought I’d try an absinthe cocktail of sorts using Hangar One Spiced Pear vodka. I made what is known as the Nectar Verde:
- 2 oz. Hangar One Spiced Pear Vodka
- 1 oz. St. George Absinthe Verte
- 1 oz. Agave Nectar (or to taste)
Aggressively shake all delicious ingredients in an ice filled shaker. Kindly pour into an ice filled highball glass, or eclectic vessel of choice. Garnish with sugar cane, or whatever inspires you. Consume with care and a smile. Repeat.
This, right here, is now my favorite drink to sit and sip on, ever. It was perfectly sweet and the flavor was superb. The herbalness of the absinthe mixed perfectly with the spices in the vodka and when combined with the caramel-like tasting agave syrup just created perfection. I will warn you, though, this is a strong drink. The vodka is 80 proof and the absinthe is 120 proof. I wouldn’t drink many of these and if you do, I’d be sure to drink ’em slow, just sipping it over the course of a couple hours.
In conclusion to all this, I’m quite sad I hadn’t tried absinthe sooner and I hope this helped make some of you want to go out and get a bottle and give it a shot! Also, I didn’t hallucinate, convulse, have weird dreams or anything else out of the ordinary, so don’t buy into the hype that it will kill you or make you crazy. If you have any favorite absinthe cocktails, please share with us! I’d love to try new stuff with it!