This time, we tried a clear, Swiss-style absinthe called Blanchette. In general, absinthes can be either green or clear. Absinthe gets its natural green color because of a combination of the herbs used to make it and the very high (65% or more) alcohol content. Because of the high alcohol percentage, the green chlorophyll bits actually remain suspended in the elixir, only to be released when you add the water and sugar, a process known as "louching". A clear absinthe, which has a milky white louche, is often a Swiss La Bleue absinthe. These are usually of a slightly lower alcohol level (55-60%) than a traditional French absinthe, which may account for its clear color, or perhaps a different recipe.
In any case, T.A. Breaux, the New Orleans chemist mastermind behind Jade Liquors, has helped out Combier to produce Blanchette. It is the first clear absinthe we have tried here at InAbsinthia and we were looking forward to it, wondering what kind of spell a clear absinthe would cast.
Upon twisting off the cork, a strong aroma of anise (licorice) assails the nose, loud and clear. Blanchette does not have the hard wax sealed corked bottle Nouvelle-Orleans, but rather the plastic topped cork stopper as found on lower end port bottles. But the nose is definitely that of absinthe!
We poured about 1.5 oz into each glass, put the absinthe spoon on top with two sugar cubes on it and began gently pouring in filtered, ice cold water. I shake it in my cocktail shaker filled with cracked ice, getting it nice and cold. Then I decant the water into a small glass pourer and we pour the water over the sugar cubes, trying to be as slow as possible. Someday, we'll have to get one of the fancy absinthe glasses with the little reservoir at the bottom, and the holder for the ice cubes at the top. But for now, we'll make due with fancy goblets and trying to be careful while pouring the water over the cubes.
The louching action was pretty good, but subtle. It really just gradually clouded over, rather than the water showing up as droplets. The final result was a nice, cloudy drink, but without any pearly touches. Still with a powerful anise smell, though.
The first sips were pretty good as well with, once again, a nearly overpowering taste of anise. There was really no room left for tasting too much else, which made the Blanchette very much a one trick pony. There weren't nearly as many interesting flavors as we found in Nouvelle-Orleans, just a full-bodied anise (licorice) taste. Which isn't necessarily a bad thing, and certainly not unexpected, given the aromas.
So it was an enjoyable blanche absinthe, but lacking the subtleties of Nouvelle-Orleans. A nice twist on the original verte absinthe, and one that we will visit again in the future, I'm sure.
We did another tasting of Absinthe Nouvelle-Orleans the other night and it once again impressed us with its smooth taste and excellent, tingly, finish. We used a slightly smaller amount of absinthe, but probably ended up with a slightly stronger mixture, as we added less water. We also used two suger cubes per glass, rather than the one we used last week. This made for a sweeter, more licorice flavor, and really made it go down smoothly.
The color of the Absinthe Nouvelle-Orleans starts out a pretty pale green, almost the same color as the herbal liqueur Chartreuse except maybe a little greener. We trickled the cold ice water across the sugar cubes and into the absinthe much more slowly this time, using a small pourer. It takes a bit for it to "louche", which is what it is called when the absinthe turns into the cloudy green. You can see in the picture a before and after. Pretty neat transformation, actually.
And then you just sip it. As mentioned, it tastes a little bit sweet, with a very anise/licorice flavor. Not really minty, although there is some other kind of herbal taste to it. While it starts out at nearly 140 proof (68% alchohol), by the time you drink it in this fashion, it has been cut down more than half. I imagine the resulting mixture is about 40-50 proof, so less than a good martini. And after a few sips, your tongue gets tingly. Not really like it feels as the novocaine wears off after a dentist visit, but much more subtle. You don't even notice it creep up on you. A really special apertif.
I have such great friends. I've been wanting to try some of la Fée Verte (The Green Fairy) for quite some time, but never pulled the trigger on ordering a bottle. But my Wednesday night drinking buddy, Michael, recently came back from Paris, and brought us back a bottle of the jade-colored "deadly stimulant" and we transported ourselves back to the Moulin Rouge and the heyday of a bohemian living. We raise a glass of absinthe - oooo. Check the Wikipedia entry on absinthe for a pretty good short history of absinthe, but suffice to say it is illegal in the US to make, buy or transport, but you can own it and drink it, so I wasn't expecting the doors to come crashing in, arresting us on sight!
And Michael didn't skimp either. He brought back a bottle of Absinthe Nouvelle-Orleans by TA Breaux, the New Orleans chemist who reverse-engineered the long-forgotten recipe for the Pernod Absinthe. He was featured in a Wired magazine article and a New Yorker profile. It comes in a gorgeous tall thin bottle, with a very pretty label, sealed with wax and a long cork. He also brought over the required absinthe slotted spoon and even a couple of French sugar cubes - we went authentic all the way!
The absinthe serving process is a little complicated, because you want to dilute the 68% (nearly 140 proof!) liquor down a little before drinking it. So you put the slotted spoon over a glass, set the sugar cube on the spoon and slowly run cold water across the cube and into the green liquid. The liquor slowly begins to "louche", which is when it turns a milky-green. About a 4-1 ratio of water to absinthe is about right, but I think maybe we were a little short of that. It will definitely require lots and lots of practice!-)
After we filled our glasses, we took a sip of the forbidden elixir. And it was surprisingly good, especially for something some have described as "an incredibly nasty drink". Mint, licorice, and other herbs could be tasted. And yes, after a few sips, something weird goes on in the mouth; something tingly, a little numbing, and very much hard to describe. But definitely good, yet something that will require some practice to get right. Colder water, perhaps, with a better ratio. He also brought back another, smaller, bottle, so we'll have to do some taste tests.