Now that genuine Absinthe is back to the United States, the stylish entertainers have to learn how to serve this herbal alcohol concoction.
My husband’s cousin told me about a bar in Boston where they served Absinthe by dripping iced water with a stylish Absinthe Fountain. It intrigued me since I only saw and tasted the unfashionable sugar on fire method before (a no-no). So I was glad to grab an issue of Imbibe this week that made it clear to me.
Now that I am in the know, I will give you the scoop on how to properly serve absinthe to your guests. The few required tools bring back the art of formal entertaining, a decorum that is missing today. Do not be intimidated by this more elaborate service. Instead, think about it as producing a show, living an adventure for you and your guests.
What is Absinthe?
Absinthe, like pastis, is served as an aperitif. Both drinks have a strong anise (licorice) flavor.
The difference between absinthe and pastis is mostly in the alcohol level – absinthe has lots more – and the used herbal compositions. Pastis is also sweeter. Anise, fennel, lemon balm, hyssop and grande wormwood gives absinthe its distinctive taste. The fresh herbs macerate first and then are distilled.
The alcohol level ranges from 53 to 72%. Contrary to the myth, absinthe produces no hallucinating effects.
The Art of Serving Absinthe
In the old days, the service ritual contributes to the appeal of absinthe. Basically, you dissolve and dilute the absinthe in the glass using a sugared water. Several techniques can be used for slowly dripping iced water on a sugar cube positioned on a perforated spoon.
As you add the water, the pale emerald Absinthe will louche into a clouded opalescent liquid. The sugar is totally a matter of taste. The louche effect is created by the water, not the sugar. I encourage you to taste both ways. In fact, the need for sugar varies per brand. If you try a new brand, try it without sugar first or ask the waiter for advice. Use your Absinthe spoon to dissolve any remaining sugar.
The typical recipe calls for three parts water per part of absinthe. You serve one part of absinthe in heavy glassware, often a short stem glass. Specialty stores sell absinthe glasses but any glasses by French maker La Rochere can do. The glasses have a very French country. Arthur Quentin in Montreal carries a large selection of La Rochere glassware.
You can find beautifully crafted perforated spoons that are reproductions of the early 20th century classic spoons. My favorite ones are the Feuille No. 2 Absinthe Spoon and the Toulouse-Lautrec Absinthe Spoon available at Absinthe Devils.
For a fancier look, go for the Art Deco sugar jar. Otherwise, it is time to display your silverware. Grab the silver sugar bowl with sugar tongs from your formal English tea set.
Two gracious techniques
Like I said, they are several service techniques. The most sophisticated look is definitely the Absinthe Fountain. You can buy one with two or four spigots; four is best for parties. Stock one absinthe spoon per guest plus a few extra. Place the perforated spoons in a jar until ready to serve.
Many stores sell replicas of period fountains online. Ask questions regarding the materials and dimensions before you buy because they used the same names but they are all necessary made by the same manufacturers.
Another method is the brouilleur. It is cute but can be noisy. The mechanical aspect will appeal to men. You would not need the perforated spoon if you prefer the brouilleur. Many models were designed from the simplest to the complex. A very charming option is the famous Auto Verseur originally made for Cusenier with its small see-saw to control the dripping water. Silver-plated replicas are available online. I found one at a store named Absinthe Spoon.
If you are not ready to commit yet, there is a low cost solution called the Glass in a Glass method. Basically, you place a shot glass inside an empty Absinthe glass. Fill a small carafe with iced cold water. Then let drip the fresh water, drop by drop, on the absinthe. You can still use the
What brands to taste?
Beware of imitations. Made sure you buy a genuine absinthe. If you never taste it before Lucid, Absinthe Supérieure, a brand sold in the United States, is a good choice for beginners.
The Swiss made Kübler Absinthe Superieure, comes from the Val-de-Travers where absinthe was invented in the late 19th century. First produced in 1863, Kübler Absinthe Superieure contains coriander, mint, anise and fennel among other herbs and botanicals.
If you wish to encourage a Canadian brand that produces genuine Absinthe from an old fruit-based spirits and top-quality herbs, try Tabou Absinthe (not too confused with Tabu) from Okanagan Spirits.
Setting up an Absinthe Station
At your next dinner party, I suggest you serve Absinthe for the apéro. Prepare in advance a station in your lounging area with everything you need. Pay attention to how you organize the tools. Before your give them their drinks, take the time to explain how it works to your guests. Capture their attention and start the mingling.
Learn more: Lucid Absinthe Supérieure
Buy online: Absinthe Sugar Cube Holder
Buy online: Silver-plated Cusenier “See Saw” Brouilleur Replica – price: 39 £
Buy online: Toulouse-Lautrec Absinthe Spoon – price: $10.95 USD
Buy online: Absinthe Fountain Chat IV – price: $149.95 USD
Buy online: Absinthe Fountain Chat IV (little bit smaller with plastic spigots) – price: $110 USD
Via: Imbibe magazine – January / February 2008 issue
ready2sparkFebruary 13, 2008 at 21:00
This is super freaky…but I was in the process of writing a story about Absinthe! When I was in Prague recently, we did a bit of a tasting – sorry to say that I didn’t halucinate nor did I get the creative urge to paint crazy pictures. It was just another drink. However, since it’s been made legal in certain places, it become in vogue to drink…there are a ton of bars in NY that are featuring the drink.
I’ll be sure to reference your post when I complete my story.
All my best!
GeorgeFebruary 20, 2008 at 17:27
I’ve been an absinthe afficionado for several years, since I discovered it in South Africa of all places (if you ever get your hands on it, I cannot recommend “Doub’s” strongly enough!).
Keep in mind there are two distinct styles of absinthe. “French” or “Swiss” style louches (turns cloudy) in water, and is well-suited to the “classic” method with the sugar cube and water. “Bohemian” absinthe (which is what you normally get in Eastern Europe, and such brands as Hills here in BC) is better suited to the “flaming” method (or to window washing – I can’t stand that type).
Anyway, I wanted to let you know that another great brand of “traditional” absinthe, made using an authentic recipe, is La Fee. It’s now available in Canada – see http://www.lafeeabsinthe.com/docs/canada.php, and enjoy the green fairy!
At Home with Kim ValleeFebruary 21, 2008 at 01:13
Great comment George. I want to thank you for the precisions regarding the service of the different kinds of the absinthe. I know a few stylish people who use the flames so I was surprised to hear that this was not a proper method. If only I knew before that it depends on the absinthe kind.
Nathalie RivardFebruary 25, 2008 at 09:44
It’s so funny! I bought some Absinthe two weeks ago when I went to the SAQ on Ste-Catherine Street. The guy in the store made us try some and I loved it. There were many different brand, up to 77% alcohol. I ended up buying l’Absente, because it had a funky look and it was coming with the special spoon for the sugar.
I am going to trying it really soon!
At Home with Kim ValleeFebruary 25, 2008 at 10:27
Nathalie, I do not want to disappoint you but Absinthe is technically not a real absinthe because the maker replaced the wormwood with another ingredient. It slightly changes the taste. I have a bottle at home. Personally, the taste is OK but not impressive.
I read on your Facebook’s Status Update that you bought a pepper mill that matches my style. Nice! The worst thing is that I did not have the time to vote for you (ref: my Facebook App called Status Competition – http://www.facebook.com/apps/application.php?api_key=c568306a20f29df7b8aee9f6a89e804d)
RJTOctober 27, 2008 at 18:35
As far as taste, none of the US legal absinthe really stand up. I have tried many, many different kinds from all over the world and the best available are the Jade brand. I am not an “Absinthe Snob” by any means. It is just that most of the US brands are relatively new and have not yet perfected their process yet. Even one you had mentioned above, produced with consultation from a most famous absinthe distiller, leaves you with a feeling that their should be more.
I also wanted to mention that there are several US based accessory dealers. Absinthe On The Net has fast shipping and offers discounts on multiple purchases. I have dealt with them many times.