Absinthe: Ever Green

27 June, 2014

As a result the drink attracted people after a ‘legal high’ and who were to abandon the drink after being disappointed. And it put off responsible drinkers who were appalled by its ‘hooligan’ image.

“For us, absinthes that focus in their communication on extreme strength (whether it be related to alcohol or thujone content) are preying on the ignorance of consumers,” says Alan Moss. “In the 19th century, absinthe was bottled at between 45% and 74%, and there was no focus on thujone levels in the marketing of absinthe. Higher-alcohol absinthes should be dosed with more water to bring them down to the same drinking strength. Sadly, some companies use high strength as a way of getting consumers to drink more alcohol more quickly [witness stag parties in Prague].

“Undoubtedly some were attracted by the hype and stumbled across absinthe on a group night out – or on holiday – and who wander off, drunk, and disappointed not to see green fairies. This group does not exhibit great category loyalty.”

The reinvention of absinthe, though, has come as a direct result of the rediscovery of classic cocktails. Generations ago, absinthe was used in scores of cocktails and, as the new wave of intelligent mixologists seek out producers with provenance and heritage, so too absinthe is being rediscovered.

America, which avoided all the druggy setting-on-fire scene by not lifting its ban on anything which encouraged such behaviour is leading the way, but the UK is learning fast. The Savoy alone has more than 100 recipes using absinthe, not just as a principal ingredient but when used in the same way as bitters.“Just a few drops of absinthe can bring a drink to life and make it sparkle,” says Breaux. 

John McCarthy, who is making quality absinthes at the Copper House Distillery in Suffolk, England agrees. “Absinthe can add an extra dimension to cocktails and just washing the glass with absinthe prior to filling with drinks such as a Martini can make them amazing,” he says.

“It appears in many great drinks such as the Corpse Reviver No 2 and Sazerac, which have both been around for decades. We do not recommend the burning of sugar, which was popular in the ’90s, and definitely do not recommend anyone drink it neat.”

Ceremony has always been important to absinthe, but the new producers accept that the apparatus around it may have been considered pretentious. Spoons are optional, they say, sugar unnecessary, setting fire to the liquid to be avoided, and fountains an elaborate, stylish, but ultimately unnecessary luxury. Carafes of ice cold water are just as effective. 

What they all agree on is the need for more education on the drink. “An increasing number of people are finding that absinthe isn’t what they thought it was and they find that they actually like it,” says Stephen Goulding. “In America the market is crowded with a small number of very good brands which are expensive and a lot of not very good brands that are cheap.

“Our job is to get the big companies to move over to good quality and that’s starting to happen. If it continues absinthe has a very bright future indeed.”

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