The spirit that supposedly drove a generation of French artists mad is back in B.C., where distillers are reinventing absinthe
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.
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
They came, they sipped, they chose their favourites, ranging from a delicately herbal absinthe to a boldly spiced rye whisky.
Some 600 people descended on the Croatian Cultural Centre on April 6 for the sixth annual BC Distilled festival, highlighting the best of the province’s artisan spirits. Some 180 spirits from 39 distilleries were poured over two tastings, and at the end of it all, the audience voted for their favourites in 13 categories.
What is it with absinthe? Every time the herbal spirit gets involved, confusion and controversy seem to follow.
Take the Sazerac, one of the world’s oldest and greatest cocktails and since 2008 the official state cocktail of Louisiana. For decades experts as revered as Dale de Groff, King Cocktail himself, traced the origins of the first cocktail to this anise-scented variation on the Old Fashioned. Sadly, it can’t be true, since the word “cocktail” first appeared in print in 1806 and the apothecary who allegedly invented the Sazerac was only three years old at the time.