October 31, 2005 6:28 PM   Subscribe

The Mystery of the Green Menace "It's been celebrated as a muse and banned as a poison. Now an obsessed microbiologist has cracked the code for absinthe - and distilled his own."
posted by dhruva (48 comments total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
What the hell do they mean "cracked the code"? They give a recipe outline right in the wikipedia article you linked.

Wired magazine: pornography for the breathless.
posted by delmoi at 6:35 PM on October 31, 2005

I think the more important question is, will the new stuff still fuck you up proper?
posted by tweak at 6:38 PM on October 31, 2005

Not to rain on any parades, but absinthe is happily consumed by many currently. Not the swill, either, but good stuff.

I would suggest checking out feeverte.net and LDF for some of the latest.

Rules of thumb:

1) Thujone is hype
2) Czech brands are swill
3) Spanish brands are only marginally better
4) Distilled is where it's at

Sample any of the Emiles, Verte de Fougerolles, or Jades if you want something tasty.
posted by kaseijin at 6:41 PM on October 31, 2005

Oh, it's about Ted Breaux (grats me, reading link before posting!)...

Yeah, he's the one who makes the Jade absinthes I mentioned above. Old news.

Still, his are among the best out there. Nouvelle Orleans is perhaps my favorite absinthe.
posted by kaseijin at 6:45 PM on October 31, 2005

Well, what do you know.

Just last night I had some (Swiss) Kübler and it was very nice.
posted by Sticherbeast at 6:47 PM on October 31, 2005

Good news: Tasty, sexy, expensive!

Bad news: look elsewhere for your artistic madness.
posted by longsleeves at 6:53 PM on October 31, 2005

I have a question. Since the drink is banned in the US, what are the legalities of LDF shipping it here? They say they will, but I'm wondering how they get around import laws.
Anyone willing to explain?
posted by papakwanz at 7:29 PM on October 31, 2005

But does it still make the heart grow fonder?
posted by yhbc at 7:35 PM on October 31, 2005

Like ordering pharmaceuticals from overseas, papkwanz. The merchant will be happy to ship to you, but there's no guarantee that customs won't snag it before it makes it to your doorstep.
posted by Gamblor at 7:44 PM on October 31, 2005


IANAL, but as I have had it explained to me, it's not absinthe that's banned in the US, it's the thujone in absinthe, and it's banned under FDA as a food additive -- not as any sort of ATF or DEA sort of thing.

As such, it is illegal to sell it in the States for the purposes of consumption. It is perfectly legal to purchase individual quantities, to own and to drink.

I order pretty much exclusively through LDF, and have never had a problem at all. I also brought a couple of bottles back through customs from Paris this summer with no problem at all.

There are stories told of the occasional overzealous customs officials who put holds on bottles coming into the US. Many of these cases that I've heard of have been resolved by the ordering party simply going to the customs office, explaining that it's for personal consumption, picking up their bottle and being on their merry way.

There are also those less fortunate.

Still, of many orders I have placed with LDF, I have never had the slightest problem. In fact, their shipping is uncannily fast.

Don't listen to scaremongers who resell in the States and charge a high mark-up because of "customs risks."
posted by kaseijin at 7:51 PM on October 31, 2005

From kaseijin's LDF link:
Recent studies have demonstrated that extracts of wormwood (and other plants used in absinthe) have CNS cholinergic receptor binding activity and therefore contrary to accepted wisdom, absinthe may actually improve cognitive function (Wake et al, J Ethnopharmacol, 2000 Feb;69(2):105-14.
Well that settles it then. I need some. I haven't had any outside of Czech, but what I had there was... how do you say - tingly? As in "it made me feel all tingly, in a good way."
posted by blendor at 8:13 PM on October 31, 2005

As such, it is illegal to sell it in the States for the purposes of consumption. It is perfectly legal to purchase individual quantities, to own and to drink.

So, like, you can't go into a bar to try some (in the U.S.), but you could buy a whole bottle from overseas? That's too bad, I'd like to try it out before spending $100+.
posted by crawl at 8:37 PM on October 31, 2005

crawl: The taste will vary some from brand to brand, but the thing to keep in mind is that the main ingredients where the flavor is concerned are fennel and anise. As such, virtually every brand on the market is going to taste something like licorice to varying degrees.

This can range some from the overly syrupy, black jellybean taste of Spanish oil mixes, to the mouthwash-meets-NyQuil-meets-151 nastiness of Czech macerations, to some really sublime herbal flavors in some of the nicer distilled brands.

A good, distilled absinthe will have that licorice-like taste of fennel and anise, but will be more balanced, with hyssop, lemon balm and other notes.

A good litmus test, though, is whether or not you like licorice. If you do, then I say pony up and get a bottle. Verte de Fougerolles is generally a very well-received brand for first-timers, as well as being something of a bargain.
posted by kaseijin at 8:52 PM on October 31, 2005

Shit, I've met this guy.

It was at the bar called (natch) La Fee Verte, on Conti and Exchange Alley. It was about two o'clock and he came in with some guy that just had a book published about absinthe. I never got to try his (or anyone else's) wares. Hell, I didn't know whether or not to believe him.

The owners of La Fee Verte sold the joint in early 2004, I think. Man, do I ever miss that place, and the Sunday night wine tastings that Rickilane used to put on.
posted by suckerpunch at 9:15 PM on October 31, 2005

I love Metafilter. Now, to convince the wife.
posted by crawl at 9:15 PM on October 31, 2005

A friend of mine makes this Distilled Absinthe. For the moment only available if you understand Dutch, I'm afraid, but soon also through Absinthe-Distribution.com.
posted by kika at 9:27 PM on October 31, 2005

If you are out of Pernod and you really must have something for your bouillabaisse, absinthe is an acceptable alternative.
posted by ryoshu at 9:56 PM on October 31, 2005

What the hell do they mean "cracked the code"? They give a recipe outline right in the wikipedia article you linked.

i guess that's at least one person who didn't read before posting.

thanks for the link, dhruva. i spent about an hour musing through the links at the end of the wikipedia article. oxygenee had some amazing stuff, especially the books section.

absinthium oil is used as a horse liniment and in absorbine jr. for arthritis. absorbine is also very green. i wonder if it louches?
posted by 3.2.3 at 9:57 PM on October 31, 2005

One of my friends brought a bottle of absinthe back from the Czech Republic once.

I drank about a half bottle of it (according to my friends)

At one point, we all wound up singing hair metal ballads (according to my friends)

I got violently ill (this much I remember)

I wouldn't go near anything minty-smelling for weeks.

Absinthe..... Wierd stuff....
posted by afroblanca at 10:24 PM on October 31, 2005

The joke is

Absinthe makes the tart grow fonder

where 'tart' is a word meaning 'prostitute'.
posted by nickp at 10:47 PM on October 31, 2005

Drink only the good stuff...
A year ago I drank a bottle with a few friends, we stepped out of the apartment and started talking loudly in the hallways without any of us noticing it. Quite fun.
Man, but the next day I couldn't move my eyes a milimeter in either direction. Catatonic for 24 hours. Not fun.
posted by lorbus at 10:48 PM on October 31, 2005

Bloody hell, I've gone and bought myself a Christmas present. Being completely unable to resist the lure of the Blue, I've gone and bought a bottle of Verte de Fougerolles.

I'll be damned if I have a bar without a bottle.

More later.
posted by Samizdata at 12:38 AM on November 1, 2005

On preview...

Damn you all.

Damn your eyes.

I could not afford that.
posted by Samizdata at 12:42 AM on November 1, 2005

"After the first glass, you see things as you wish they were. After the second, you see things as they are not. Finally you see things as they really are, which is the most horrible thing in the world." -- Oscar Wilde
posted by Mijo Bijo at 3:25 AM on November 1, 2005

I would highly suggest that the folks who have sampled only "absinth" from the Czech Republic give the drink another shot, only get a decent brand this time.

Nothing that's so H.P. Lovecraft green can be good. Most Czech brands are just high-proof vodkas that have been macerated and dyed, all touting a "high thujone content."

Thing is, wild tales of thujone induced hallucinogenic trips are just that - wild tales. The ethanol content of absinthe is enough to knock you on your ass before anything else that could hit you would. You're paying $100 a bottle for the drink, get something worth drinking - something tasty - and toss the "Moulin Rouge" fantasies out of your head.

Done right, it's a classy, tasty and anachronistic drink with a lot of history and ritual, that has been simply mythologized thanks to years of being banned, and was overly demonized by a foundling prohibition movement.

Also, to feed the addiction....Frenchman SARL offers quite a nice array of repro glasses, spoons and fountains.
posted by kaseijin at 5:25 AM on November 1, 2005 [1 favorite]

kika: I love the look of your friend's label! Do you have any sort of estimate on when that will be available and how much it will cost?
posted by kaseijin at 5:28 AM on November 1, 2005

The last para of the linked article was intriguing. An avid pipe smoker, I've enjoyed Perique tobacco a few times...but a drink made with Perique? Too weird.
posted by alumshubby at 5:41 AM on November 1, 2005

As such, virtually every brand on the market is going to taste something like licorice to varying degrees.

An (alcoholic) friend of mine bought some through the mail and the little romantic in me ran over to try it out-- I had been lusting for absinthe since I was a teenager. But alas I hate licorice. There were grassy undertones, but on the whole I would rather drink a bottle of NyQuil.

Absorbine, Jr.-- that's a whole nother story!
posted by Secret Life of Gravy at 7:05 AM on November 1, 2005

I've only had czech brands, and I liked them. I'm now excited to learn that there are brands that taste even better. Thanks guys, I'll check some of them out.
posted by ob at 9:13 AM on November 1, 2005

I just saw checked out the Absinthe Helfrich and it sounds really good. I'm not going to Holland for a few months, so I hope I can order it online and get it in the US soon...
posted by ob at 9:20 AM on November 1, 2005

Swiss brands rock!
posted by dabitch at 9:36 AM on November 1, 2005

I remember hearing that in New Orleans some bars were selling "absinthe." I'm guess it was just some sort of faker swill, am I right?
posted by papakwanz at 9:42 AM on November 1, 2005

papakwanz: Those bars were probably selling Absente, a pastis produced by Crillon Importers that is readily available in the US.

That or Pernod, Herbsaint or one of the other makes of pastis.

Never had Pernod or Herbsaint, but Absente is fit only for the drain - it's nasty.
posted by kaseijin at 9:47 AM on November 1, 2005

Pernod is ok, but nowhere near as good as absinthe. Another brand that's similar to Pernod (at least from my recollection) is Ricard.
posted by ob at 9:53 AM on November 1, 2005

Well, if I get this grant I'm hoping for, I might just skim a couple hundred bucks and buy me a bottle!

For those people who regularly drink the stuff, how long is it good for once you've opened a bottle?
posted by papakwanz at 9:54 AM on November 1, 2005

Blendor - If you want to activate your CNS cholinergic receptors for cheap, smoke cigarettes. Those receptors are also called "nicotinic."

I used to really like activating those receptors. And absinthe sounds way classier. A bottle of Nouvelle Orleans is definitely going on my christmas list.
posted by selfmedicating at 10:21 AM on November 1, 2005

papakwanz: It's good for quite a long time after you've opened the bottle.

In fact, sometimes a bottle that either falls victim to shipping shock or just has a general funk about it when you open it can taste worlds better a couple of months after opening it.

One of the bottles I brought back from Paris this summer was a bottle of Muse de France's 3rd distiller's proof. It had sort of a fishy funk to it when first opened, so it sat on the shelf for a while. Two months later, a friend and I polished off the bottle in one night, and it was much, much better. The funk was gone and a lovely meadow-ish taste was left.

It just varies some from brand to brand, but I have never had one get *worse* after opening.

The longest I think I've kept a bottle without finishing it was a bottle of Un Emile Blanche that I had around for about 9 months.
posted by kaseijin at 10:37 AM on November 1, 2005

In the article, they mention pouring cold water, slowly, through an absinthe spoon.

I remember in Czech Republic drinking some absinthe that had been treated with a sugar cubed, dipped in the liquid then ignited.

Is this also an acceptable method?
posted by cell divide at 10:43 AM on November 1, 2005

The flaming sugar cube (or Czech) method is generally frowned upon, and is of dubious historical accuracy.

Not only does lighting your liquor on fire diminish the ethanol content, but burning your sugar alters the taste quite a bit. In fact, popular sentiment holds that this method was most likely cooked up by Czech marketers in order to both make the drink more "exciting" as well as to mask the wretchedly bitter taste of most Czech labels. Many Czech brands also do not louche (turn opaque) properly, and thus don't have the appeal with the traditional method.

The proper and traditional way to prepare a glass of absinthe involves pouring a dose of liquor into a glass (pontarlier and other reservoir glasses are quite handy for this), topping the glass with a slotted spoon, placing a sugar cube on top of the spoon, and slowly dripping ice cold water over the cube and into the absinthe, to a ratio of about 4:1

The cold water drip is pretty much essential to enjoy a good louche. Essential oils from the herbs used in the production process are held in solution by the high ethanol content (remember from chemistry class that lipids are soluble in alcohol).

Thinning out the concentration of alcohol by adding water causes these oils to come out of solution and form micelles. The colder the water, the more oil comes out of solution. Also, a slow drip has the effect of "beating" the drink, also enhancing the louche effect.

Dripping this cold water over a sugar cube is optional, and many absintheurs take their drink without sugar. For me, it just depends on the brand.

If you really enjoy the drink and plan on making it a hobby, I would suggest investing in a fountain. They're quite nice for controlling the drip of water, as well as for preparing multiple glasses at a time when friends are partaking.
posted by kaseijin at 11:17 AM on November 1, 2005

That's 4 parts water to 1 part absinthe? Or vice-versa?
posted by crawl at 11:27 AM on November 1, 2005

Right, 4 parts water.
posted by kaseijin at 12:06 PM on November 1, 2005

I have many friends who make Absinthe here in San Francisco. As a matter of fact the after-hour speakeasy I haunt sells it regularly.

Frankly, I think it taste like minty bum piss with just a hint of ass. I do like the ceremony of preparing the sugar, using right spoon and setting things on fire is always a plus. The drunk of Absinthe is not like anything else I've experienced from your normal run-of-the-mill booze. It's a giggly, rolling-around-on-the-grass drunk.

quite silly, actually.
posted by MiltonRandKalman at 12:57 PM on November 1, 2005

I have a question. Since the drink is banned in the US, what are the legalities of LDF shipping it here? They say they will, but I'm wondering how they get around import laws.
Anyone willing to explain?

The customs form says that the contents are "printed matter". At least, that's what mine said.
posted by Vervain at 4:13 PM on November 1, 2005

Vervain: Ah, they are "selling" the label. It just happens to come attached to a bottle filled with alcohol. Same thing with selling wine on eBay.
posted by papakwanz at 7:18 PM on November 1, 2005

During the early years of the revival of interest in absinthe (i.e. when the Idler gang started selling overpriced Czech stuff to London hipsters) Ted Breaux was fairly well known to visitors at the La Fée Verte (aka Sephulchritude) forum. He talked about his research into the old stuff, his disdain for the new stuff, and his promise to recreate the absinthes of yesteryear.

At the time, many posters considered him a bit of a bullshitter, enjoying his stories and talk of secret plans, but never expecting his 'new old absinthe' to appear. But he pulled it off. It's a nice story, I think: the amateur becomes a professional, and research beats out marketing hype.
posted by holgate at 7:52 PM on November 1, 2005

kasejin: kika: I love the look of your friend's label! Do you have any sort of estimate on when that will be available and how much it will cost?

It is available now, but in small quantities. Price is plus-minus 35 euro for a 0.5 litre bottle. If you e-mail my friend you can probably make some deal with him to get an advance sip.

posted by kika at 9:25 PM on November 1, 2005

MetaFilter: minty bum piss with just a hint of ass.
posted by LarryC at 6:29 PM on November 6, 2005

Kasejin, thank you for all the info you provided in this thread. I ordered from the link you gave (the two bottle sample of de Fougerolles) and the package arrived in five days. I was stunned by the service to the U.S. Tomorrow I'm having a tasting party with a few friends.
posted by vito90 at 9:14 PM on November 8, 2005

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