Return of the green fairy

The spirit that supposedly drove a generation of French artists mad is back in B.C., where distillers are reinventing absinthe

The traditional way to serve absinthe is by filling a fountain like this one at Botanist with ice water, then dripping it through a sugar cube on a spoon into the spirit, where it creates the cloudy effect known as the louche. Dan Toulgoet photo

It’s all fun and games until someone loses an ear. Vincent Van Gogh’s escapades might have delivered the final cut to the fashionable, anise-flavoured spirit absinthe, invented in Switzerland in the late 18th century and favoured by Belle Époque bohemians. Seen as highly addictive and dangerous, it was banned in the U.S. and much of Europe for nearly a century, until 2007.

Likely the poor quality or high-proof base spirit—not the relatively small amount of hallucogenic thujone, naturally found in absinthe’s bittering agent, wormwood (Artemesia absinthium)—was responsible for absinthe-attributed naughtiness. But its reputation as the bad boy of the spirits world persists, as does its role in cocktails, particularly of the French-influenced New Orleans school, such as the Sazerac, Corpse Reviver No. 2 and La Louisiane.

Here are five local absinthes to try, from newcomers to B.C.’s standard-bearers.

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Absinthe Mojito

Jeremie Dyck photo

Okanagan Spirits’ anise-flavoured take on the Cuban classic.

• 1 oz freshly squeezed lime juice
• 1 tbsp sugar
• 6 mint leaves
• 1 oz Taboo Absinthe
• 1 cup crushed ice
• Sparkling water
• Garnish: 1 lime wheel

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Bohemian Mule

Jakub Janco photo

At Arbutus Distillery, they use their own house-made ginger beer, but any good commercial one would work as well.

• 1 oz Baba Yaga Absinthe
0.5 oz fresh lime juice
• Ginger beer

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The Green Beast

istockphoto.com photo

This modern take on an absinthe frappé was invented about a decade ago by French bartender Charles Vexenat for Pernod Ricard. At Pemberton Spirits, they make it with The Devil’s Club Organic Absinthe instead.

• 1 oz simple syrup
• 1 oz absinthe
• 1 oz fresh lime juice
• 4 oz water
• Garnish: 4 slices cucumber

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Variations on a theme

Five Vancouver bars that offer immersive fun along with your cocktail

Key Party interior
At Key Party, the 1970s are in full swing with retro-inspired cocktails like the B52 and a vegan Grasshopper. Photo courtesy of Key Party

Step into ABQ London bar and you’re no longer in the city’s Hackney district but an RV where people in goggles and yellow hazmat suits “cook” their own molecular cocktails. Taking its name from an episode of Breaking Bad, ABQ is a trip inside lead character Walter White’s mobile meth lab.

With its dry ice and gas masks, the spot is just one example of the kinds of immersive experiences that are making theme bars so popular around the globe. In Paris, for instance, there’s L’Urgence, a medical-themed bar that uses test tubes as tumblers. And New York’s Oscar Wilde pays homage to the playwright through marble statues, Victorian-era furniture and drinks that go by names like the Selfish Giant and Ugly Peacock, nods to his life and work.

In fiercely competitive markets and uncertain times, places that serve their slings and sours with a chaser of escapism have an edge, a draw that sets them apart and helps keeps them afloat.

Vancouver, too, is home to several bars that do more than pour masterfully mixed drinks by creating otherworldly settings. The Shameful Tiki Room was one of the first, its kitsch décor and Mai Tais having rekindled the city’s passion for tiki culture.

The city’s growing collection of theme bars extends far beyond Polynesian beaches, however. Here are a few to consider next time you’re looking for a delicious liquid getaway.

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The Fire at the Mill

The Black Lodge's The Fire at the Mill cocktail.
The Black Lodge photo

This cocktail was created by Edmonton’s James Grant, and is featured on the list at The Black Lodge.

• Mist/rinse of peaty whisky
• 1 oz rosemary-infused gin (see note)
• 1 oz Scotch whisky
• 0.5 oz medium dry sherry
• 0.5 oz ginger syrup
• 0.5 oz lemon juice
• 2 dashes Angostura bitters

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Spiced Apricot Sour

Key Party's Spiced Apricot Sour
Key Party photo

This cocktail from Key Party is sweetly spicy and just sophisticated enough.

• 1.5 oz chai-spiced rye (see note)
• 0.5 oz apricot brandy
• 1 oz egg white
• 2 oz lemon juice
• Generous bar spoon of apricot preserve
• 0.5 oz simple syrup (see note)
• 2 dashes orange bitters (available at Gourmet Warehouse, Welks or Modern Bartender)

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Lust

Hail Mary’s photo

A divine take on one of the seven deadly sins at Hail Mary’s.

• 2 oz bourbon
• 0.75 oz simple syrup
• Splash of peach schnapps
• 2 oz fresh lime juice
• 1 egg white
• Dash of Angostura bitters

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Ginned up

The evolution of terroir-driven made-in-B.C. gin

Some of the botanicals used to make gin; juniper, in the centre, is the only one that is absolutely essential. istockphoto.com photo

When news arrived that Sooke’s Sheringham Distillery had scooped Best Contemporary Gin in the World at the prestigious World Gin Awards, I, like so many others, was truly thrilled. After all, what an achievement for the relatively neophyte distillery perched on Canada’s wild and westernmost edge.

But there was also a personal connection, as the awards were judged at London’s Honourable Artillery Company, right across from where I used to stay at my Uncle Ricky’s apartment.

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