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Absinthe: The Topic


Lord Michael Lewis
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Marilyn Manson's absinthe (called Mansinthe) is made in Switzerland.

Looks like it's brand new - I don't suppose you've had the opportunity to sample it yet? I like the bottle design, anyway: Mansinthe

Have not tried it. I'm not fond of Absinthe and anyway, most of the current productions have very watered-down Wormwood (Thujone) The exception might be Logan Fils top label but I understand the "private recipes" are much stronger. Now, if I only had some connections in Canton Jura....

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I'm a big fan of verte de Fougerolles, myself. Thujone quotient isn't all that relevant to me, to be honest; flavor profile is. Sorta the same way I wouldn't choose coffee based on caffeine level. The main advantage of absinthe to my mind is its general assertiveness of flavor and presence of more complex aromatics (and a slight floral accent on the mid-palate) than pastis, both of which come to the fore heavily in cocktails (not to mention that absinthe doesn't cloud cocktails by loucheing).

Mayur Subbarao, aka "Mayur"
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Have not tried it. I'm not fond of Absinthe and anyway, most of the current productions have very watered-down Wormwood (Thujone) The exception might be Logan Fils top label but I understand the "private recipes" are much stronger.

Stronger in what, exactly?

I think you'll find if you read through the thread above, that real absinthe never contained much thujone to speak of, and that most of the reported affects of absinthe which have been attributed to thujone were in fact the result of alcohol poisoning and poisoning from the various adulterants and contaminants found in low quality pre-ban absinthe.

--

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Sorry I didn't realize Mansinthe had been covered. I had originally posted it as a new topic but my post was moved to this string.

As I mentioned, I don't drink absinthe because I don't like the flavor. My understanding (from articles like this one and this one) is that the new absinthe is a watered down version of the old. This is from one of the stories: "Where the old absinthes contained up to 100 mg of thujone per litre, Kubler keeps his levels well below the 10 mg legal limit." So it seems that some of the old absinthes contained 10 times the maximum limit of today's versions.

The only interest for me is that it was Swiss invented and I am curious about the effects for the 100 mg dose of thujone. Certainly, if you enjoy the flavor you should pursue the subtleties.

By the way, there is an absinthe festival every year in the Val-de-Travers.

http://www.absinthe.ch/

Edited by SWISS_CHEF (log)
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Stephen Colbert is on to Absinthe's comeback. The Word last night was Absinthetinance.

edit: changed link from Crooks and Liars to Comedy Central.

Edited by jmfangio (log)

"Martinis should always be stirred, not shaken, so that the molecules lie sensuously one on top of the other." - W. Somerset Maugham

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My understanding (from articles like this one and this one) is that the new absinthe is a watered down version of the old. This is from one of the stories: "Where the old absinthes contained up to 100 mg of thujone per litre, Kubler keeps his levels well below the 10 mg legal limit."
As the product was more or less invented (and remained popular informally) in and near Switzerland, your perspective is much appreciated, Chef.

A key phrase is "up to" a certain quantity of thujone per liter. Thujone was stigmatized or scapegoated before the widespread absinthe ban, and negligible thujone content became an advertising claim at that time. I haven't looked at the linked references yet, but modern analyses of old and reproduction absinthes support the claim that they need not contain significant thujone. It also has long been known that they could be made with significant thujone content depending on distillation details, because the distillates alcohol and thujone have similar boiling points around 80 degrees Celsius. (In either case the pre-distillation infusate can have considerable thujone, from the quantities of wormwood that go into it.) Some of this information is in recent popular sources.

Less well emphasized recently but also long public is that 100mg of natural thujone (as in a liter of "high-thujone" absinthe, above) is the same tiny fraction of a human-lethal dose as the caffeine content in a cup of mild coffee (because caffeine and thujone have the same lethal human dose level). This suggests that rational concern over thujone present in a serving of high-thujone absinthe should imply much stronger concern over a cup of coffee.

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The New Orleans paper ran a feature on Ted Breaux. A few quotes:

Through a process called mass spectrometry, Breaux discovered that true absinthe contains minute quantities of thujone, the toxin (derived from an herb called wormwood and once used as an insecticide) that was long thought to make absinthe consumption dangerous.

Breaux said that the thujone levels in vintage absinthe were so slight that he became convinced absinthe wasn't so dangerous after all and that its banning was more the product of abolitionist zeal than science.

and

Gurfein had a hunch Breaux's knowledge could be paired with his company's legal and industry expertise to persuade the Alcohol, Tobacco, Tax and Trade Bureau to approve authentic absinthe. As it turned out, no existing laws even needed to be changed.

"What we essentially did is, we first presented a lot of documentation outlying the whole patchwork of laws that would affect the product, showing them there was nothing on the books that should prevent them from approving this if they were inclined to approve it," Gurfein said. "But we had to spend months and months in dialogue to convince them that we weren't just going to put a drug in a bottle."

Todd A. Price aka "TAPrice"

Homepage and writings; A Frolic of My Own (personal blog)

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  • 2 weeks later...

It looks like both the Kubler absinthe and Lucid are now available in Southern California. I've read many review of Lucid, but none on the Kubler yet. Is there anyone here who's tried both, and would recommend one over the other?

"Martinis should always be stirred, not shaken, so that the molecules lie sensuously one on top of the other." - W. Somerset Maugham

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  • 2 weeks later...

The NY Times has an article on the new crop of absinthes.

EARLIER this year, when Lance Winters heard that absinthe was being sold in the United States again for the first time since 1912, he shrugged it off. Then he reconsidered. He’d spent 11 years perfecting an absinthe at St. George Spirits, the distillery where he works in Alameda, Calif., and considered it one of the best things he’d ever made. Why not sell it?

Over the past few months, he must have wished he’d stuck to his first instinct.

Eagerly awaiting the Absinthe Verte from St. George...

"Martinis should always be stirred, not shaken, so that the molecules lie sensuously one on top of the other." - W. Somerset Maugham

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Yes (the independent NYT article covered the same news, although St.-George is local to the Chronicle).

Finz's article in the Chronicle is well written and researched. The level of background and the absence of myths (old or new) distinguishes it somewhat from the norm for popular articles on absinthe in recent years.

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So, if I understand this correctly, the ban on absinthe has not been lifted entirely, but products may be approved on a case by case situation?

Also, is there a good place to buy the 2 part absinth glasses like this one:

http://www.wired.com/wired/images.html?iss...=absinthe&img=1

without resorting to 100 year old ones from ebay?

I've had lots of customers ask me about it over the last week or so and I'm a bit curious myself. Is there a decent brand availiable in mass?

Sean

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The law essentially limits thujone content to under ~10mg/l, and it turns out very little thujone makes it through the still, so it's a matter of absinthes qualifying for the "thujone free" designation, which is like "fat free" cooking oil sprays that get to round .49g/serving down to 0.

I've heard on the absinthe forums that Lucid and Kubler are avaliable in the Boston area.

For brouilleurs, you can order directly from Liqueurs de France:

http://www.absintheonline.com/acatalog/Glassware.html

Or from La Maison d'Absinthe in New Orleans:

http://www.lamaisondabsinthe.com/searchres...x?CategoryID=23

Most (all?) of the absinthe vendor sites offer accessories as well-- linked from my blargh. I'll be posting there re:paraphernalia in the next few days since people will need to get their drip on, so check back or subscribe to the feed since I'll include homemade/hacked options (like, dialing a kitchen faucet to drip and put your glass under it in the sink to watch the louche...;).

It's an exciting time to be an absinthe fan!

Edited by salsa72 (log)
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Greetings Salsa72, welcome to eG and its long absinthe thread (with much information and discussion, though spread over time). Some of us have been following and posting about the subject for a while. In a 1988 absinthe thread on the Internet's general drinks forum, one frustrated absinthe seeker pursued an image of danger and mystery. I commiserated. "However, Ouzo, Pernod, etc. are plenty toxic in their own right; don't overlook this. Just pretend they are illegal and stylish, and there you are."

There you are -- image and reality. Grossman, in his US drinks reference book (4th edition 1964), who'd handled absinthe professionally in various countries, and writing with a hint of exasperation, dismissed the "aura of mystery." "It is not because of the wormwood that [absinthe] is dangerous but rather ... alcoholic strength." That was my 1988 point too, and it is the core of the modern absinthe story. In the 1800s, some absinthes were much more dangerous, but ironically not because they were absinthes. Dangers were misunderstood and the wormwood herb scapegoated. The reality surfaced after the ban, yet the aura remained, assured by forbidden status and the drink's rarity. Unfortunately, the standard of available public demystifying information has IMO not improved and maybe even retreated in the last five years, as a new crop of self-appointed experts, some commercially interested, demonstrably nurture elements of the mystique (even while purporting to remove it) in comments, FAQs and books that add little not available 10 years ago, and omit to clearly lay out long-public upshots like the following.

-- Low thujone content by analysis is found in some classically made absinthes for reasons discussed upthread, but this was also a selling point a century or so ago.

-- Low thujone content doesn't appear to matter much healthwise anyway as described below. It is chiefly a regulatory quirk possibly due to the same residues of 19th-century stigma and misinformation mentioned above.

-- Not long after the early-1900s ban, science caught up to absinthe, demystified it, and came to see thujone as just another herb principle, consumed anyway in common herbs classed as completely healthy by USFDA, and toxic in gross overdoses, much as caffeine is and at the same dose level.* At around 1% thujone, for instance, common cooking sage (S. officinalis) gives you as much in a pinch of leaves as you'd get from a serving of thujone-rich absinthe. By animal lethal dosage measure there's as much "toxin" of that kind in one cup of coffee as one bottle of thujone-rich absinthe, and a bottle of any absinthe contains around a lethal human dose of alcohol. (Why don't today's "FAQ" files begin with such perspective?)

-- The chief US "legalization" recently was relaxation of labeling laws to permit (still with restrictions) the "A" word. Otherwise the new products already met longtime USFDA food regs permitting wormwood-related products if thujone-free. In fact, some absinthe substitutes (Versinthe was retail in US since 2000) claim to use the same herb family and be thujone-free, they just don't say "absinthe." I don't know their exact differences from the new products and am curious to learn, accurately.

-- I've tried the new St.-George product as have others. Interesting like many herbal liquors, and real absinthes I've tried over the last 25 years, but there are many interesting herbal liquors, they are niche tastes or cooking ingredients (where absinthe excels -- shellfish steamed or cooked with it and other flavorings can be exquisite -- after all, these liquors are basically spice tinctures). I wonder what will happen when experience and availability banish the gee-whiz factor. And if that consideration encourages some people to preserve the mystique?

*Caffeine, and equilibrium mixture of natural thujone isomers, both list standard rodent LD50 levels of 135 mg/kg and this information was in public libraries before most absinthe hobbyists were born. Data on sage from materia medica handbook by chief of that section at the US Department of Agriculture.

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[...]

-- I've tried the new St.-George product as have others...I wonder what will happen when experience and availability banish the gee-whiz factor.  And if that consideration encourages some people to preserve the mystique?

[...]

Exactly what I wonder.

There is a tremendous amount of buzz around Absinthe right now, but what will happen once the reality that it is simply anise, fennel, and herb scented booze sets in.

One thing that is going in its favor is that other herb flavored booze, like Chartreuse, is also relatively popular, at least among bartenders these days. Add in the fact that fresh herbs are much more common in the American diet and that things like pesto have made it to the mainstream of American eating, and I think people are probably much more receptive to these sorts of flavors than they might have been even 15-20 years ago.

The thing I continue to hear that is most annoying, even among relatively knowledgeable persons, is the continued belief that the new Absinthes aren't the "real" stuff. It is still very common to hear either that the old Absinthes were significantly different from the modern ones, or that, if you splurged to get the thujone rich versions from Europe you'd be tripping out.

There is still much education to be done.

---

Erik Ellestad

If the ocean was whiskey and I was a duck...

Bernal Heights, SF, CA

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Yea, that's an interesting point, Max. Personally, I am excited to see that true absinthe is available for legal purchase mostly because (1) it allows me to better recreate preban cocktails; (2) because they are, in general, better in quality and more interesting than the substitutes we have been using; and (3) because we now have several products to choose from where previously we had none.

Most likely (and hopefully) there will be enough frat boy drinking of absinthe for it's supposed "extra" properties (much like they drink Jagermeister and God knows what else) to make it economically viable forquality absinthe makers to continue selling in the US.

--

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I am excited to see that true absinthe is available for legal purchase mostly because (1) it allows me to better recreate preban cocktails; (2) because they are, in general, better in quality and more interesting than the substitutes we have been using; and (3) because we now have several products to choose from where previously we had none.

I agree, if in fact US prohibition of them had poor basis then restricting access to these products is absurd. (I'm still not sure about the "none" factor owing to the question I cited about previous drinks possibly differing just in name.)

there will be enough frat boy drinking of absinthe for it's supposed "extra" properties (much like they drink Jagermeister and God knows what else) ...

A perennial factor in the US liquor market. For possible historical interest, 20 years ago with less but still subtantial drinks discussion on the Internet, there were pleas to avoid posting "undergraduate nauseating cocktails of the month" and even earlier, hints of same thing surfaced pro-actively in formation of the original drinks forum, 26 years ago:

Newsgroups: net.wines

Date: Sat Feb 27 15:37:47 1982

Net.wines lives!

Subject matter for this group includes all topics covering alcoholic beverages, including wine, beer, hard liquor, wine making, beer making, and, if you prefer this group to net.cooks, recipes using alcohol. ... During the poll, I did receive a request that new recipes for obscure cocktails be limited ...

Happy drinking.

Charles Wetherell

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  • 2 weeks later...

gallery_27569_3448_23258.jpg

Sea Fizz

1 1/2 oz Absinthe

Juice 1/2 lemon

1 egg white

1 tsp caster sugar

Shake ingredients for 10 seconds in dry shaker. Add large ice, shake well. Strain into glass and top up with soda water.

Not quite sure where this recipe exactly comes from or if I am getting it entirely right.

It is not in the "Savoy Cocktail Book," but appears without the egg white in my edition of Patrick Duffy's "Official Mixer's Manual" as the "Seapea Fizz".

The above formulation is really quite delightful, and I would like to dedicate it to the folks at St. George Spirits, who have, despite the odds, produced the first Absinthe legally produced and sold in the US since the ban in 1912.

---

Erik Ellestad

If the ocean was whiskey and I was a duck...

Bernal Heights, SF, CA

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