Lucid Absinthe – Busting the Ban on Absinthe

May 29 2009 - 4:05 PM

Absdegas This past week I was lucky to be introduced to absinthe by the men who are responsible for lifting the near century-old ban on the drink. They are the men behind Viridian Spirits LLC, a company dedicated to absinthe.  Company founder, Jared Gurfein and their resident absinthe scholar and chemist, T.A. Breaux gave me a great history of the spirit and made a terrific presentation of their products. Lucid is the specific absinthe in question with the ban-proceedings.

Prior to this evening, this picture by Edgar Degas is pretty much the context I had of the spirit, and considering that the Viridian absinthes are all over 60% alcohol it begins to show how I was starting to feel by the end of the evening.

Here’s the deal with absinthe. There is a by-product of distillation called thujon. This was the hallucinogenic substance which is the active ingredient of legend. Based on actual product testing which T.A. Breaux, among others has performed, and wikipedia verified, original bottles of absinthe had little-to-no actual thujone. Considering the alcoholic content and easy-to-drink nature of the product, the woman in the picture could simply be really cockeyed-drunk. This doesn’t mean that there were no absinthes with actual amounts of thujone. Their conclusion is that  out of the range of products from that time frame, very few of them actually had either significant levels of the substance, or even any at all. Breaux explained that  properly distilled grand wormwood leaves all the thujone in the mash. It shouldn’t even make it into the bottle. Lucid has no thujone.

Now when this was explained with a powerpoint deck, lists of ingredients, and personable lawyer, Jared Gurfein, what else could the Feds do? With no thujon, there was nothing illegal. They reversed the ban. Fair enough.

On to the fun part. Absinthe is neat in many ways.

There’s a myth to it but more importantly it has a sort of ritual, complete with a special glass and spoon. Forget your pimp-cup, any truly addictive thing needs a spoon… even legal things, like the Slurpee with that straw-spoon… I digress.

Preparing_absinthe The absinthe glass has a ball at the bottom that serves to measure the amount of the pour. You then place the perforated spoon across the glass, pop a sugar cube atop the spoon and drip water into the glass until it reaches the height of the cut marks in the crystal. You see a meniscus of alcohol form and thin out until it finally is virtually gone.

As the water mixes it disturbs the herbal essential oils in the absinthe and the green transparent liquid turns opalescent. The addition of water also amplifies the scent which is a wonderful anise, fennel, almost minty herbaceousness (spell check that word!).  I was a bit skeptical, not being a big fan of Inflatable Water Slide Ouzo or black licorice for that matter. However as I started sipping it I really did enjoy it. It’s not a sluggable drink, sips really do the trick and are misleadingly refreshing… you can get really bombed on this stuff. The quality herbs have a distinct soft mouth-feel which seems very smooth and almost more pronounced on the sides of your tongue. Sipping absinthe straightaway was a very potent proposition and reminded me very much of grappa. Given that one of the absinthes had a neutral spirit made from grapes, I may have been thinking grappa going in. Lucid uses sugar beets as the alcohol source.

Skipping the sugar the second time, (and third… I liked it better without the sweetness) I tried the Nouvelle Orleans and La Clandestine. The latter is a swiss version that’s very clear and not as herbal. The finishing herbs not only add flavor but the lend the green color. The Nouvelle Orleans is T.A.’s signature absinthe and was really wonderful. I tasted them before getting the skinny and it really has a noticeable richness. Having only tried this limited selection, it was hard to really gauge but I had an easier time identifying herbal flavors and since I was one drink in, everything started to get better.

The absinthe “drink” itself is the way to go. All it needs is water. With the classic cocktail making its rounds in town, the absinthe and water fits right in. Its potency is up there. The flavor is unique and complex. It is an arguably older drink than the sazerac but as it’s not really a cocktail there should be no rivalry. It has a very wonderful unique quality and while it might not be for everyone, it’s worth a taste before getting to the suggested mixers which use it. Here’s a link to some ideas. I haven’t tried any of them.

Next time I see it behind the bar I will definitely be ordering it again.