Sapphire absinthe

While every absinthe enthusiast fantasizes about stumbling across a cache of old dusty crates, prying them open with a crowbar and searching through the 100+ years old packing material to discover several bottles of pre-ban absinthe, it is in fact a rare treat to have even so much as a 1 oz sample. I myself have had the good fortune to acquire three such samples, and they are a unique experience to look forward to in the weeks leading up to tasting it, and to savor for years afterward.

However, there are a few excellent modern absinthes which are likewise a rarity, even after a span of only a few years. One such absinthe is a Swiss la bleue called Sapphire, which was distilled by Claude-Alain Bugnon in 2010 (and perhaps earlier, as well). This fantastic blanche was beautifully clear, as are the best la bleues which come from Switzerland, but it also had a higher thujone content than is allowed by law, which is why it is no longer available. While the amount of thujone is absinthe is already minimal, the legal limit for absinthes in the United States is 10 ppm, while in Europe the limit is 35 ppm. I have personally never experienced any of the hallucinatory “effects” which many folks hope and wish absinthe produced, and chemical tests have likewise debunked the notion. However, old ghosts are hard to kill, and so the measurable amount of thujone is strictly enforced. The TTB (Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau) in the United States even goes a bit further, insisting that no absinthe product can have the label “absinthe” as a stand-alone word (which is why so many are called “absinthe superiore”), nor can names or graphics hinting at death, the occult, visions or hallucinogenic effects be part of the labeling or packaging. One gets the impression that if someone said “boo” while they were looking at a bottle of absinthe they would wet their pants and call in the National Guard.

But oh how I digress. In any case, no true absinthe lover cares about the thujone level, as it is so negligible an amount, whether it is 5 ppm or 50 ppm. When a European friend offered me a sample of this rare and hard-to-find absinthe, I did say no to her, and after experiencing it I’m so glad I didn’t. Simply opening the bottle and inhaling the aroma was a true joy. Some blanches have a scent reminiscent of wet grass or seaweed at the center of their aroma, which is a bit off-putting to me, but Sapphire was strong with crisp wormwood and hint of  baby powder, which is a common descriptor for hyssop. I figured that this absinthe would be sweet, and it was. Rich with herbs, the louche finished so quickly that I nearly missed it, and this is one that you want to use a slow drip on with ice cold water.

But the taste! The fennel and melissa (lemon balm) were definitely up front and extroverted, but the very fine wormwood maintained a hot rhythm section underneath which wouldn’t be ignored. The drink was very crisp, and while the mouthfeel wasn’t what I would describe as creamy at first (which is not a criticism, but simply an observation), adding half a teaspoon of agave nectar added that dimension to it. While blanches are traditionally not sweetened, I do still tend to do so with about half as much sugar or agave as I would use with a verte. This absinthe was delicious with or without sweetener.

Oh, and for the record, I neither saw fairies, monsters, nor devils; I did not paint a beautiful picture or write a heart-rending poem; and I did not cut off my ear and have it couriered to my favorite prostitute. An opportunity squandered, I suppose. But at least I do have a pretty picture of the Sapphire bottle, along with a louched dose of it in a Pontarlier glass with “see-saw” brouillieur on top, which was taken by “Michael in Poland.” Enjoy!



  1. Michael said,

    April 13, 2012 at 10:17 am

    Thanks 😉 See more, on my fanpage –

    Michael from Poland

    • April 14, 2012 at 3:30 pm

      And thank you for taking and uploading such a beautiful picture. I didn’t know how to get in touch with you, so it’s good to have your information. Cheers to you!

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