John discusses how to drink absinthe with an expert, in this interview with Victor from absinthes.com
by John Pope on June 28, 2013
Absinthe is a drink full of mystique and misconceptions. Slightly embarrassed about my lack of knowledge, I decided to ask an expert exactly how I should be drinking the much misunderstood green spirit, so got in contact with Victor from absinthes.com.
P&G: Everyone has heard of absinthe, but a lot of people are confused about exactly what it is and where it comes from.
Victor: That’s true, but there are no secrets really. Absinthe was first developed as a medical remedy in the Val-de-Travers (Switzerland), and after it became increasingly popular the original recipe was sold to a business man who created a commercial aperitif. It became extremely popular in France around 1900, and was banned and demonized by the government of many countries after it was blamed for social destruction, alcoholism, and violence. Today, absinthe is legal again, and completely harmless. Absinthe has a high ABV – 45%-74% on average – which can sound very intimidating. Absinthe is traditionally drunk diluted with water, which reduces the alcohol content to about the same than a glass of wine.
P&G: 74% alcohol sounds like something that will strip the lining from my throat.
Victor: You just have to know not to drink it straight and to keep a right water-absinthe-ratio. Then it surely won’t burn your throat.
P&G: Ok, so once we’ve got our hands on some of this misunderstood liquid, how should we drink it – there seem to be a lot of myths and misconceptions about that as well?
Victor: Absinthe is traditionally drunk diluted with water, which reduces the alcohol content to about the same than a glass of wine. So you would pour one measure of absinthe into a glass, and slowly pour about 3-4 measures of preferably iced water on top. You can add sugar if you want to, then you would drip the cold water over a sugar cube that sits on an absinthe spoon. This is called the traditional absinthe ritual, it takes some time and watching the drink louche while the water is added can be very soothing.
P&G: What is this louche, what is the water changing?
Victor: One of the herbs used to make Absinthe is anise, which contains an essential oil: anethole. Anethole completely dissolves in alcohol, but not in water. So, when you add water to your absinthe, the alcohol level decreases, and the anethole precipitates. This is what we experience as the explosive reaction of absinthe turning cloudy, when water is added. In general, adding water to absinthe reveals various aromas and flavours that are bound in alcohol.
P&G: Ok, but why all of the ritual, can’t we just pour water in like with Pernod?
Victor: The essential oils all precipitate at different levels of dilution, pouring the water in slowly like this allows each aroma to develop slowly, one after the other. Sounds like a lot of work, I know – but exactly for that purpose, absinthe fountains were invented. You can simply place your absinthe glass underneath, watch the water drip and sit back.
P&G: But nobody has an absinthe fountain laying around these days.
Victor: You can use a carafe instead, or you get one from absinthes.com for example.
P&G: What about a lighter? – my first taste of absinthe was in a bar where they set fire to the sugar – although to be fair the memories of that night are a little hazy.
Victor: That’s the Bohemian ritual, it was invented in the 90’s to make absinthe more appealing in Czech bars – but that procedure isn’t linked to the traditional preparation of absinthe. I can see why it can be exciting to look at and that it gives a ‘dangerous’ feel to the drink, but the burned sugar actually destroys some of the nice flavours of absinthe. So, we don’t really recommend or support this ritual, but since we can’t live up to the historic traditions forever, it’s clear that there has to be something new. There are some really good cocktails with absinthe coming up these days, that’s a nice change as well.
P&G: So tell us a little about absinthes.com – what do you do?
Victor: At absinthes.com, our mission is to make a broad range of high quality absinthes accessible to customers all over the world. We strive to educate our customers and spirits enthusiasts about our range of products, and to pass on all knowledge we gain through our relationships with suppliers and manufacturers. It is essential for us to provide the best customer service possible, and to offer assistance to any of our customers’ needs. I work for our marketing team, create strategies and observe the absinthe market.