01 December 2007

l'heure verte

So after disembarking from the New Jersey Transit at Long Branch last Wednesday, my friends were waiting for me on the ramp to the parking lot. As we piled into John's car, Rodney announced that they had a present for me--and handed me a box of sugar cubes.

And because they had been talking about seeing it at a restaurant a few days earlier, I knew what was coming.


Well ... sort of. The brand name is Absente, Absinthe Refined.

The difference between this and brands that come from, for example, Alandia, is that it contains no Grand Wormwood (Artemisia absinthium) and little to no Thujone. They've replaced the Grand Wormwood with Southern Wormwood (Artemisia abrotanum), an innocuous cousin. Also, it's not distilled; it's the "macerate & mix" kind. In short, it isn't really absinthe, which is not surprising because absinthe is still mostly illegal in the United States.

The result is that Absente is mostly harmless--or as harmless as any other 110 proof liqueur (our personal result was that we stayed up and laughed until 4:30 on Thursday morning).

There were no "Green Fairies," but the ritual is still fun--even though, as it turns out, we didn't do it quite right.

If you look around on many absinthe sites (and there are a lot), there are several recommendations for the absinthe ritual. The claim is that purists will only accept absinthe straight or in the "traditional French ritual"--slowly dripping ice-cold water on a sugar cube that has been placed on a special slotted absinthe spoon over 1-3 ounces of absinthe. The desired visual effect is a "louche," when the absinthe turns from emerald green to a light milky jade opacity. This will apparently only happen when there is anise present, so if you don't like anise (it's the flavour of black licorice), then you might want to avoid absinthe altogether.

I actually haven't had absinthe in this way since the Czech Stromu brand that I bought while I was living in Auckland, and there was absolutely no "louche," no matter what I did (low, very low anise content). It took me right until the end of my time in New Zealand to finish off that bottle. It's not that it was bad, but it isn't something I would drink all the time.

The ritual that we performed on this Thanksgiving Eve was somewhat different. We poured about two ounces into a glass, set the absinthe itself on fire, and then put it out by pouring the cold water over the sugar cube on the absinthe spoon.

This was not, strictly speaking, the traditional "Bohemian ritual." Actually, before I go on, it should be noted that the "Bohemian ritual" is more of a modern contrivance than it is "tradition." Actual French Bohemians at the turn of the last century were more likely to drink it in the aforementioned "traditional French" way. But I digress. On to the "Bohemian ritual" ...

I quote Absinth24.Net (and correct their spelling where that needed to happen) in their instructions regarding the absinthe fire ritual:

As absinthe usually contains more than 60% alcohol, you should be careful with the Bohemian ritual, as the absinthe in the glass shouldn't begin to burn. [oops.]

a) Pour absinthe over the sugar cube or dip the sugar cube in the absinthe.

b) Light the sugar up and wait until it's fully caramelized.

c) Mix the sugar with the absinthe.

d) Add ice cold water, and you are ready to enjoy the absinthe!

We have a plan to break this out next weekend after more sugar cubes have been acquired, as I opted to leave them behind at Casa Manna.

Actually, I also have a plan to make an order from Alandia at some point, but shhhh, we're not suppose to import the stuff to this country. And, yes, I recognize the idiocy of announcing illicit dealings in a public forum, but I'm telling myself that nobody [official] is reading this ... I'm not sure how Alandia gets around the absinthe ban; but according to their FAQ, if your absinthe gets seized by U.S. customs en route to your address, they'll refund your money.

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