Article

Absinthe: The Mighty Louche

Another day, another new absinthe brand...After years of promising to be the next big thing, absinthe’s time may have arrived. Clinton Cawood gathers a high-alcohol-tolerance panel to put a dozen to the test


HOW IT WORKED

Absinthes both old and new were called in, and were eligible for the tasting provided they were available in the UK. They were tasted blind, in two flights, blanche first, followed by the vertes, each flighted in ascending order of abv. Tasters were presented with the samples neat, but provided with water, and all samples were diluted before tasting. Each absinthe was rated out of 20, with value for money being taken into account. These scores were averaged out to a percentage score for each absinthe. Each taster then chose an absinthe from the tasting to create a cocktail with.

TASTING PANEL  

Marian Beke, Nightjar, Clinton Cawood, Imbibe, Alex Cowey,  Worship Street Whistling Shop, Artur Dogiel, Riding House Café, Julian de Feral, Lutyens, Lee Hyde, Met Bar


RESULTS

77  Enigma Blanche de Fougerolles Universally loved, this elicited all manner of positive tasting notes, with panellists identifying everything from candied fruit, tropical fruit, lychee, fennel, anise and lime, to toffee and caramel. Tasters noted the attractive louche effect on the addition of water, which also opened up some floral notes. ‘Something of a departure’, as one taster put it.

74% abv. RRP £42.50.  Liqueurs de France, 020 8398 8065  

70 La Maison Fontaine A hit with our panel, with complex herbal notes on the palate, and not as dominated by anise as some others here. Fresh-cut grass and salted liquorice were among the descriptors. The aroma opened more with water, releasing citrus and clove spice. On  the palate, some detected camomile, apricot and peach kernel. 

56% abv. RRP £59.  Sip or Mix, 07714 590361  

 67 Jade PF 1901 A panel divider – its fans liked the warm herbal, floral character, with hints of iris, lavender, liquorice and fennel, as well as some marzipan. It was also the only spirit in this tasting that elicited a food pairing suggestion, with one taster thinking this would pair with fish. Its opponents didn’t like a sweet, vegetal character, as well as a coconut note. 68% abv. RRP £69.  Sip or Mix, 07714 590361  

66 La Clandestine  With its distinct liquorice and fennel notes, tasters were impressed by a creaminess (like ‘liquorice bonbons’, said one), as well as its dry balance, even if its finish was a touch sweet. Some noted a hint of herbaceousness too, with coriander or sage notes,  along with some lime flavours. 

53% abv. RRP £45.95.  Distillnation, 020 7129 8108  

65 Angelique One of the most typical, traditional absinthes in the tasting, according to panellists, with aniseed, fennel seed and liquorice dominating. In addition, some noted an orange blossom note on the nose, as well as a touch of eucalyptus. One for drinking with water, and maybe some sugar. ‘A solid, typical absinthe,’ said one panellist.  

68% abv. RRP £56.25.  Distillnation, 020 7129 8108  

64 Pernod A delicate, floral absinthe, with light anise and woody notes, as well as lime on the palate. Tasters also identified orange and fennel flavours. This divided the panel, with some appreciating its subtlety, while others found that flavours were lost on the addition of water. Either way, this represented good value.

68% abv. RRP £35.79.  Coe Vintners, 020 8551 4966  

63 Butterfly A natural green colour, almost chartreuse yellow, most tasters commented on the natural, vegetal aromas, accompanied by spices like star anise, turmeric, and even garam masala. The prevailing character was liquorice, though. A good, natural absinthe. 

65% abv. RRP £59.25.  Distillnation, 020 7129 8108  

62 Jade L’Esprit d’Edouard An intriguing spirit, with star anise and vegetal notes, along with candied fruit and marzipan, with one taster identifying Juicy Fruit gum. Milky on the palate, with cinnamon, anise, and more tropical fruit flavours. Some suggested this was a classic absinthe style. 

72% abv. RRP £69.  Sip or Mix, 07714 590361  

60 Enigma Verte de Fougerolles Descriptors included Tiger Balm, Deep Heat, bay leaf, thyme, coriander and grass. This was summed up by one taster as a ‘medicinal nightcap’. Another panel divider, drawing criticism for its green milky appearance and vegetal aromas. On the upside, others enjoyed its warmth, spiciness and typicity. 

72% abv. RRP £40.05.  Liqueurs de France, 020 8398 8065  

57 La Fée XS Suisse A well-balanced absinthe, leaning towards the dry side. This was characterised by green, vegetal notes, such as fresh fennel, as well as a suggestion of floral notes, lavender in particular. Some tasters noted that this would be improved by the addition of sugar, or more suited to cocktails. 

53% abv. RRP £85.  Cellar Trends, 01283 217703  

57 Hapsburg Traditional A surprise for some, given its unnatural-looking colour – Hapsburg elicited positive tasting notes, with one taster describing it as ‘restrained, with decent absinthe notes, as well as some other interesting flavours’. Fruit flavours predominated, with ripe pineapple and melon, as well as fresh fennel, lemongrass and honeysuckle.  

72.5% abv. RRP £32.  Blavod Drinks, 020 7352 2096  

50 La Fée Parisienne A dark, bold green colour set this one apart, with an attractive green louche when water was added. Some restrained anise on the nose was brought out with the addition of water. Overall, a subtle spirit, at least compared to some others in this flight, with tasters identifying rye bread and peppermint notes. 

68% abv. RRP £37.50.  Cellar Trends, 01283 217703  

Many thanks to the Worship Street Whistling Shop for hosting the tasting.


Conclusions

 The clear, or blanche absinthes were the favourites on the day, with three of them making it into the top four. Judging by the absinthes that panellists chose to mix with, it’s a style suited to cocktail making, too.

 Price is definitely a factor in this category, with some wide variety here. There are some super-premium priced offerings, but bargains can be had, too.

The results divided absinthes into certain camps. There was a dichotomy between new, contemporary styles, and the more traditional absinthes. Similarly, some were clearly better suited to being savoured with water, while others would do better service mixed. 

Absinthe is capable of being mixed in quantities greater than a mere dash, provided it’s done well. Our panellists picked out certain flavours from the spectrum identified during the tasting, and emphasised them in their cocktails


Panel Comments

‘People like it when you display the fountain and it’s a good way to boost volume in the absinthe category, depending on your style of venue. If bartenders have 10 vodkas on their back bar, why not a few absinthes?’Marian Beke, Nightjar

‘This is a tough category, with some negative preconceptions. Yet it seems to be showing signs of life, with a number of new entrants, some of which are returning successfully to absinthe’s roots, while others are offering something contemporary. The quality here today was – with some exceptions – very high.’ Clinton Cawood, Imbibe

‘There are quite a few new absinthes entering the market, but because I often use them just as a seasoning in a drink, I don’t shift much volume. There was such a vast range of styles here today. Some mixable and others for drinking-with-water. Price-wise, though, it’s difficult to get people to try these neat – it’s an expensive experiment.’Alex Cowey, Worship Street Whistling Shop

‘I wouldn’t have more than two or three absinthes on the back bar – maybe a classic style for cocktails, and something else to give customers choice. There are some new absinthes entering the market that might be more suited to a modern palate. I’m looking forward to seeing how its popularity grows.’Artur Dogiel, Riding House Cafe

‘Maybe some absinthes here were too far-flung, but there were those that, as long as they were well balanced, you could have with just water. There were some that I’d even consider matching with food, if you got the dilution right. I think the blanche-style ones had more appeal.’Julian de Feral, Lutyens

‘I’d question whether the quality was there to warrant some of these high prices, and whether the high abv was really necessary. I think there’s potential in terms of cocktails, though. I’m surprised that brands haven’t cashed in on drinks like Death in the Afternoon.’ Lee Hyde, Met Bar


Cocktails

FRENCH FIZZ
by Alex Cowey

Glass: Highball
Garnish: Lemon peel
Method: Muddle the ginger, then shake and strain all ingredients except Viognier. Add Viognier and top with soda.
10ml Enigma Blanche
de Fougerolles
15ml Grand Marnier, lemon and vanilla syrup
15ml Kammerlings
10ml sugar syrup
2 dashes malic acid
2cm fresh ginger
75ml Viognier

TWO ABSINTHE SOURS
by Artur Dogiel

Glass: Cocktail
Garnish: None
Method: Shake and
double strain.
30ml absinthe (Pernod and Enigma Blanche de Fougerolles, respectively)
15ml lemon juice
10ml sugar syrup
15ml egg white

THE GREEN HEAT
by Julian de Feral

Glass: Highball
Garnish: Grated nutmeg
and lime twist
Method: Build in the
glass and heat.
25ml Enigma Verte
de Fougerolles
40ml Tapatio blanco
2bsp honey
3 dashes salt and
pepper bitters

FRENCH STORM
by Lee Hyde

Glass: Large coupette
Garnish: None
Method: Shake and
double strain.
30ml Enigma Blanche
de Fougerolles
15ml Aperol
10ml Ron Diplomático
15ml crème de cacao
10ml orgeat
15ml lime juice
egg white


Editorial feature from Imbibe Magazine – September/October 2011

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