In the world of cocktails there is nothing more Ritualistic than absinthe. After the first session Eric and I are optimistic for the next few drinks in the book, which all contain absinthe. While we are attempting to follow along with the drinks in the book, there are a few we can’t get to because they require ingredients that we need to make: ANISETTE and CRÈME DE MENTHE. We will have separate sessions for cooking these ingredients and the drinks that require them.
I get to Eric’s place, ready for the ritual of rituals: absinthe. After our usual pleasantries we get down to business, but we can’t start with the absinthe drinks just yet. We must tackle the problematic A-1 PICK-ME-UP again and see if it’s all that it’s cracked up to be. From our email consultations with Eric’s aunt and my scientist friend, we have come up with a pared-down version of the A-1 that we will refrigerate.
We juice three lemons into a mason jar. Then we add three cracked eggs with the shells. After screwing on the cap, saying a prayer, and crossing our fingers, Eric places the jar in the refrigerator hoping his wife doesn’t throw out the odd concoction. With the new A-1 working its magic we are ready for the green fairy.
Absinthe’s rich and controversial history has made supporters and detractors throughout history. Neither Eric nor I have much experience with absinthe, but we’ve heard all the stories and rumors. Absinthe is a hallucinogen. It’s the wormwood. You’ll go crazy! (I can say with certainty that we did not hallucinate or go crazy.)
The fact that absinthe gets people “crazy” is because of the alcohol content. Most absinthes are distilled between 45% to 82% alcohol by volume—we’re talking 90 to 164 proof. Pure alcohol, which is very hard to find outside of a laboratory setting, is 200 proof and your usual bottle of liquor is 80 proof. So think back to that first time you had Jack Daniels Whiskey (80 proof), or Peach Schnapps (48 proof), or even Boone’s Farm Strawberry Hill (15 proof). How did that night go? Did you have a hangover the next day? Absinthe is twice as strong as Jack, three times as strong as some Schnapps, and eight to ten times stronger than Boone’s Farm. No wonder people lost their shit—they were inebriated beyond belief. Van Gogh reportedly cut off his ear while drunk from absinthe. Oscar Wilde wrote that after a night of heavy absinthe drinking he felt tulips brushing against his legs as he left a bar. Additionally, back in the day people were making absinthe with poisonous additives that would help the louching effect (the effect of adding cold water and sugar to absinthe which produces a white cloudy mixture is known as the louche).
Thankfully they aren’t adding poisonous ingredients anymore. The only thing Eric and I have to worry about is overindulging in our 65% ABV (130 proof) Vieux Pontarlier absinthe. Most absinthe drinks involve diluting the liquor with water, which is a plus, because it not only dilutes the alcohol but also brings out specific aromas and tastes you would not get otherwise. So on to the cocktails.
1 oz. Absinthe (Vieux Pontarlier)
Add Sugar to taste
1 oz. Water
Shake and pour over crushed ice and serve.
A very simple drink that we both enjoyed but it seemed to lack something. Eric wasn’t a big fan of this one but it was tolerable to him. Maybe we didn’t add enough or added too little sugar, it just tasted okay. It’s one of those I’ll-Drink-It-But-I’ll-Never-Order-This kind of drink.
SCORES: Brian 5.5. Eric 6.
ABSINTHE AND EGG
1.5 oz. Absinthe (Vieux Pontarlier)
.5 oz. Gin (Plymouth)
1 Egg White
Add sugar to taste
Shake with ice, pour over shaved ice, and serve.
Egg whites impart a smooth creamy texture to the cocktails without having to resort to using actual cream, which would change the flavor and have a fatty feel to it. I don’t understand why eggs would be used for drinks like this one. [A little cocktail note that I learned from Jeffrey Morganthaler’s book, The Bar Book, is that eggs were much smaller back in the day so generally when a recipe calls for one egg white use only .5 ounces of the egg white for the recipe.]
At first glance of the recipe, I thought, “This is going to be horrible.” Then standing in Eric’s kitchen as he made the drink I thought, “It can’t be that bad.” It was. Think about it: It’s absinthe, gin, egg white and sugar. Who comes up with this? Did we add too much egg white? Does that even matter its absinthe and gin? Eric was much more hateful of the drink but I wasn’t far behind.
SCORES: Brian 1. Eric 1.
So far we are doing much better than our first session. We are at least 1-1 as opposed to 0-2. The next drink is the ultimate in absinthe and Ritual.
ABSINTHE DRIP COCKTAIL
1.5oz. Absinthe or Pernod in serving glass (Vieux Pontarlier)
1 Lump of sugar in a tea strainer
Place crushed ice on top, add cold water. After water has filtered through the strainer drink can be served.
The absinthe drip is what I think of when I think of absinthe. It is the most proper way to drink it. Typically in a good cocktail bar they will bring your absinthe along with a jar with a spigot on a pedestal, a slotted spoon, and sugar. The ritual of making an absinthe drip is all up to the drinker; more or less water, more or less sugar. Luckily Eric had a set of absinthe glasses and a slotted spoon.
We don’t use a tea strainer because we already have the spoon, plus it was more authentic this way. I attempt to drip water from a glass with a pour spout. At first I get a few drips, then I accidentally lean the glass too far and pour a little too much water into the glass. I still dissolve the sugar and get a cloudy drink but without the slow methodical drip of the spigot treatment. The reason for the drip is to get the water, sugar, and absinthe mix just right for each person’s level of flavor and aroma.
Eric decides to try an eyedropper to drip water over the sugar into the absinthe. While this is almost identical to the spigot it takes much more of your time to keep refilling the dropper whereas the spigot allows you to set it and be free to socialize while louching. Eric dissolves all of the sugar with his dropper method but doesn’t produce a louche, so he very carefully pours more cold water until the drink becomes cloudy.
This is a good drink, although I think that it would be much better with the right tools. The ritual of the drink adds something to it. Eric likes the drink but is not totally convinced. After all of the drinks he muttered, “I don’t know, man.”
SCORES: Brian 6. Eric 5.
Session 3 winner:
-Brian: The ABSINTHE DRIP COCKTAIL
-Eric: “I don’t know, man.”
Session 3 loser:
-Brian: Absinthe with Egg
-Eric: Absinthe with Egg
-Two James Spirits Grass Widow Straight Bourbon Whiskey
-Manhattans with Rittenhouse Rye
-Rothman & Winter Orchard Apricot Liqueur
-Smith & Cross Pot-Still Rum
1.75 oz. Smith & Cross Pot-Still Rum
.75 oz. Lemon juice
.75 oz. Simple syrup
2 dashes Angostura bitters
-Gouda cheese and crackers
-Beer can chicken
-Shaved brussel sprout and kale salad
-Taiwanese pineapple cake
-Old Angostura advertisement booklet
-Detroit Cocktail bars
-Keep Calm & Larry Fong
-Whiskey Elements timeandoak.com
-Bar & Garden
-Eric’s Vietnamese Negroni (with a green orange twist)!
-Cocktails on tap
-Where to get good Tiki glasses
-Beer can chicken specific cooking plates
On the Next Rituals: “Crashing into Acapulco -or- The Triumphant End of the A-1 and Other Less Important Items”