It has come to my attention that many people reading this have never tried absinthe before. Absinthe is above all a satisfying, delicious and refreshing drink when enjoyed properly, but it’s served unlike anything you’ve probably seen before. To be honest, there is really no “wrong way” to drink absinthe. You might run into some highbrow folk who will tell you that the spoon, the fountain, and the slow drip (explained below) are the only way to enjoy an absinthe. Not true. Tradition is one thing. Intuition is another. And enjoyment is something completely independent of the two. Tradition will help you learn the rules while intuition might help you break them, but you need a little bit of both to find a place for absinthe in your heart. Here’s your reference pamphlet for enjoying your first glass of absinthe the traditional way – modify as you see fit:
Step 1: Set aside a little time.
Absinthe is best enjoyed at a time when you can relax and enjoy yourself.
Step 2: Gather the materials.
You will need a bottle of absinthe. The best absinthe comes from France and Switzerland because they have been doing it for centuries and because their laws allow a higher thujone content than absinthe made in the US. Thujone is a molecule directly related to the flavor of wormwood – the absinthe plant. Note the traditional “absinthe glass” is heavy and inversely conical, but any glass will do. The absinthe fountain is not for absinthe, but for ice water. We’ll get into its use later. Finally, an optional piece is the absinthe spoon which is flat and slotted for the infusion of sugar into the glass if you prefer your drinks a little sweeter.
Step 3: Pour a shot’s worth of absinthe into a glass.
The fairy is in the building.
Step 4: Place glass under fountain.
At this point you can put the spoon over the mouth of the glass and place a cube of sugar on the spoon. Adjust the fountain spout so that it sends water forth at something between a slow trickle and a fast drip, dripping onto the sugar cube if you have one. What’s the difference between a slow trickle and a fast drip? It’s kind of like the difference between mostly sunny and partly cloudy.
Step 5: Observe.
Watch, wait, and converse while your glass fills. Dilute with three parts water to one part absinthe. This will yield the same alcohol level as a glass of white wine, more or less, and when you drink it, you should barely taste alcohol over the strong anise and wormwood aromas. The high proof alcohol retains a vault of flavor which is released into the solution when water is added – evident as the liquid turns from clear to foggy and then milky. That’s why a good absinthe shouldn’t be taken in a shot.
Step 6: Turn off spout, remove glass, make a toast, and enjoy.
There is no fire involved whatsoever (that’s a tradition that came from the Czech clubs of the 90s, and they weren’t even drinking the real thing!). It’s not going to make you hallucinate (this is a rumor that came from propaganda aimed at labeling absinthe as a menace to society in the early 20th century!). Absinthe is packed with a variety of flavor that will activate the taste buds of your entire tongue. You don’t need to smell it or swish it around in your mouth to get the flavor. Just drink the absinthe like you’re sipping on a glass of orange juice during breakfast.
See the blog entry “ET, go home, you’re drunk” for a description of what you will taste and how you will feel after a dozen glasses. As a generalization, a good absinthe will be sweet, refreshing, and floral, leaving a glowing aftertaste like an orb floating between the center of your tongue and the roof of your mouth. At the same time, the slight bitterness, like a sweet grapefruit, will massage the corners of your tongue by the rear molars. If all you taste is fennel and your tongue is getting numb, you haven’t added enough water.
Like I said, absinthe can be enjoyed in a variety of ways. Besides being enjoyed with water, it can also take a cocktail from “ass” to “class” just by the addition of an eye-dropper’s worth. Try pouring a shot of vodka on the rocks and add a small amount of absinthe – not even one thimble full – and taste the difference. Disclaimer: will not make Nikolai taste good! If the Fantastic Four made an agreement with the Justice League, who made an agreement with the Greek Gods, who made an agreement with the Roman Gods, who made agreements with Jesus, Mohammed, Albert Einstein, Ghandi, and David Blaine to make everything in the world good, without fault, Nikolai would still taste horrible. Absinthe, on the other hand, needs no help - only that of a caring distiller.
Lee Roy is a dreamer and a simpleton who wants to produce the finest liquors in the world at his distillery in Missoula, Montana. He is traveling via couchsurfing and AirBnB with his "business backpack" to the places where the best liquors in the world come from in order to learn the craft.