Absinthe Tasting

Our Absinthe Fountain

Thursday. Fully recharged and not sleep deprived. Sober from my sleeplessness. My opinions and my outlook steady and firm. Tonight we are headed to the city for an absinthe tasting party with M and T. We have car service both ways so it won’t matter if we’re a little tipsy. The place where this is being held is absolutely gorgeous; red velvet, crystal, victorian little place that was made for sipping absinthe. I will try to post my discoveries online. We’re likely to taste at least 10-12 different brands if not more. I’m also looking forward to the dark chocolate fondue and to sneaking kisses and playing footsies with Rob! I’m still debating what to wear. I think I might dig out the feathered hair clip or even the top hat and red, red lipstick. I love drama. I am so glad I got tickets way in advance. M and T are like two of my favorite people. Tonight they are celebrating their 25th wedding anniversary. I am so happy they are my friends. It should be really special.

4 Gats

Years ago when I went to Spain I brought back a bottle of the green fairy. I stashed it in my suitcase and hoped for the best. It was illegal back then. From a very early age I was fascinated by the mystique of absinthe. I had to scour all of Barcelona asking for the elusive “absenta” before I was directed by a butcher to a small place in Barrio Gotico. I got lost subsequently looking for this place but discovered “Els Quatre Gats” cafe in the process. I bought the bottle and I’ve been sort of hooked on the ritual of absinthe ever since.

Appropriately enough, the cafe opened back in 1897 and was a key artistic hub for artists such as Miquel Utrillo, Julio Gonzalez, Ramon Casas and others. It soon became the center of the modernist movement and in the interior many of the sketches done in the pub are hung along with autographed mementos. It became one of Picasso’s favorite haunts later on as well. In spite of it’s colorful history however, it soon became apparent that no self respecting Catalan would be seen there. I know a tourist trap when I see one but it was still neat to sort of stumble upon this place with so much history in my search for absinthe.

Viktor Olivia "The Absinthe Drinker"

Absinthe takes its name from Artemisia Absinthium the bitter herb that gives it the unique color and flavoring and the botanical name for Wormwood. Wormwood contains thujone the chemical often associated with the bad reputation of absinthe and the source of its supposed hallucinogenic properties. Wormwood was used as far back as 1792 to flavor drinks. An elixir was created with it by a French doctor called Pierre Ordinaire. Said potion designed to pack a punch also included anise, hyssop, Melissa coriander as well as other herbs and a 68% alcohol content. Ordinaire left the recipe with two sisters who then sold it to Major Dubied whose son in law was Henri-Louis Pernod.

By 1797  Absinthe was on it’s way to becoming a national phenomenon. By the 19th century there were at least twenty major distilleries of the green fairy. The success of Pernod brought with it countless imitators that were producing absinthe on the cheap with dubious ingredients. Pernod did pursue the patents in court but it’s during this time it’s reputation started to become tarnished.

Paiko Absinthe Fountain

From mid 19th century absinthe became associated with the bohemian counterculture thriving in Paris and was often the subject in paintings by Manet, Van Gogh and Picasso. When artists were not painting it they were drinking it in large quantities. It was cheap and easily available and it packed a serious punch. Slowly, perhaps as a result of the paintors and the crowd who indulged in the green fairy absinthe aquired a reputation for causing delirium and madness.

Wine producers saw absinthe as a threat to their sales and dumped money into the panic. Posters, articles and the temperance movement all had their part in demonizing the drink. Thujone in large quantities was found to be a neurotoxin that caused death in laboratory animals. The final straw came when the “Absinthe Murder” took place in Switzerland in 1905 when Lanfray shot his entire family after imbibing Absinthe. Lanfray was intoxicated to a deadly level from also having drank several liters of wine and brandy aside from the absinthe.

For those of you curious as to the ritual, here are a few easy guidelines:

Step 1: Pour a measure of absinthe into a tall glass.
Step 2: Place a slotted absinthe spoon over the glass and place a sugar cube on it (the lozenge-shaped French cubes work best)
Step 3: Slowly pour 4 to 5 parts of iced water over the sugar and let it drip into the glass. The absinthe will turn from emerald green to a milky white.
Step 4: Sip slowly and imagine yourself in a Belle Epoque Parisian cafe

Rob and I invested in a gorgeous absinthe fountain and bought exquisite glasses and spoons but what we’re really saving up for is Andy Paiko’s masterpiece of blown glass. His work is so awe inspiring! I first saw this in a Vogue magazine article covering the rebirth of Goth where D.L. & Co. was also featured. Subsequently I made it a point to hunt down goods by Douglas Little. Maybe it’s my Venus in Taurus but I can’t get enough of exquisite design and luscious darkness.