Absinthe reviews: the numerology of la fée verte

Age may be just a number, but scoring absinthe goes far beyond the digits scrawled on a sheet of paper which is slightly wet at the corner because you’ve been sitting your glass down there instead of on the coaster you neglected to bring over to the table. An absinthe score can often reveal as much about the drinker as the drink itself, while simultaneously issuing a firm judgment from the bench without revealing any mitigating circumstances which may have applied. Actual written reviews allow for complete control over how to present impressions, thoughts, and feelings about the drink, as well as control over the tone of voice and inflections used to convey that information; reviewers can even include anecdotes and background information which has little or nothing to do with the absinthe itself, all to the point of establishing a certain mood or setting in which to present their more concrete determinations. In short, a review is a subjective take on what value that particular absinthe holds for the reviewer; in contrast, a score is an objective determination of what value that absinthe should hold for everyone else (insofar as any human individual can be objective).

I’m not an expert on the subject of absinthe, but I’ve had the good fortune of being able to drink quite a few different ones over the past three years, and I believe that knowledge base may be of some use to some people who are considering a purchase in the near future. While I’ve taken notes on almost everything I’ve ever sampled, and even published a number of reviews online, that would be a lot of unnecessarily detailed information to force someone to wade through before dropping a pair of Benjamins on a couple of bottles of good absinthe. Consider the numbers below to be the Cliff’s notes version, minus the notes.

I’ll continue to add new scores to this list as I sample more absinthes. Perhaps at some later date, I’ll also add in three or seven descriptors to provide a little extra insight and detail (and yes, it has to be three or seven; not only are they prime numbers, but they are magic ones as well, and I’ve got to justify that title up there somehow, gentle reader). For now, though, the numbers below represent the final score (which is given first), and then in parenthesis I have given the score for each of the two categories that I wrote about previously in this post – namely, Appearance and Aroma, as well as Flavor and Finish.

Stock market figures be damned, here are the numbers that matter:

Score

  • 10 (5/5) Edouard Pernod [pre-ban circa 1905]
  • 10 (5/5) Pernod Tarragona [non-ban circa 1956]
  • 10 (5/5) Brevans H.R. Giger
  • 10 (5/5) La Capricieuse
  • 10 (5/5) Walton Waters
  • 9 (4/5) Pernod Fils [preban circa 1910]
  • 9 (4/5) Doubs Mystique
  • 9 (5/4) Jade Edouard
  • 9 (4/5) La Clandestine
  • 9 (5/4) Meadow of Love
  • 9 (4/5) Pacifique
  • 9 (4/5) Ridge Blanche
  • 9 (4/5) Ridge Verte
  • 9 (4/5) Sapphire la bleue
  • 8 (4/4) Belle Amie
  • 8 (4/4) Berthe de Joux
  • 8 (3/5) Blues Cat
  • 8 (4/4) Duplais blanche
  • 8 (4/4) Essai 5 Blanche “Brut d’Alambic”
  • 8 (4/4) Leopold Bros.
  • 7 (4/3) Duplais verte
  • 7 (4/3) Vieux Pontarlier
  • 7 (3/4) Eichelberger 68 Limitee
  • 7 (4/3) Kübler [European version]
  • 7 (3/4) LDF Absinthe Suisse La Verte (PAS AUTHORISEE par le VdT)
  • 7 (3/4) Mansinthe
  • 6 (3/3) La Valote
  • 6 (3/3) Obsello
  • 6 (3/3) Père François
  • 6 (3/3) Vieux Carre
  • 5 (3/2) Lucid
  • 5 (3/2) Un Emile 45 [reformulated 2011 version]
  • 4(3/1) Trillium
  • 4 (3/1) Pernod aux extraits de plantes d’absinthe [modern Pernod]
  • 3 (2/1) St. George
  • 2 (2/0) La Charlotte

Absinthe Premier Fils promotional dice. Photo by Marc Thuillier.

Three killer “B”s (Or, Belle Amie, Blues Cat, and Absinthe Brevans H.R. Giger)

As mentioned in a previous post, the latest absinthe from Delaware Phoenix (which is reportedly a one-off batch, and won’t be replicated) is called Blues Cat, and it was made available in limited quantities last month. I was fortunate enough to snag a bottle from the kind folks at Catskill Cellars (whom I unabashedly endorse for their prompt shipping, excellent service, and tasteful selection of absinthe), and before too long a sloshed stork made its way here to reluctantly leave it on my doorstep.

Upon its arrival, I first noted the aesthetic similarities between this expression and the other two mainstays of the D.P. line, namely the Walton Waters and Meadow of love. The same bell-like bottle shape was used, along with its own color-coded wax cork (gold, in the case of the Blues Cat). Likewise, as is the case with the all of the D.P. absinthes, Cheryl Lins uses clear glass bottles instead of those of green, brown, or amber. Clear glass is an uncommon choice in the world of absinthe because the liquor is photosensitive, and the famous green-hued tones of a verte can quickly turn dull and brown after prolonged exposure to light. I’ve seen color change noticeably after only one day, and that doesn’t even take into account how it may have changed while shelved at the distillery or vendor’s warehouse. While the flavor is not impacted in any perceptible way, many absintheurs relish keeping their naturally-colored green fairy as green as it can be (artificial coloring is the sign of an inferior absinthe), so most of the folks I know who enjoy the D.P. absinthes will immediately store theirs in a cabinet (as do I) or place it in a UV-blocking bag or carrier of some sort. That is, unless they’re color-blind; in which case, to hell with the color altogether.

Soon after its debut, folks on various online sites became sampling and assessing the Blues Cat, and I noticed that a number of people were using  the word “peridot” in reference to the color. This surprised me because, although mine shipped the same week it was bottled and first made available, and I quickly noted the color before putting it in the closet, there wasn’t any hint of olive-green to be found. Instead, the liquid was dark yellow with a slight brown tinge, or perhaps “autumn gold” if you’re prone to flights of fancy superlatives. I’ll confess that taking such flights is one of my personal idiosyncrasies (and not a weakness, you damn philistines!)

Ahem. In any case, absintheurs who frequent online forums tend to get tetchy if you criticize something that they like, and even more so if you impugn their manner of assessing it. While I was doing neither when I wondered aloud how a fair number of reviewers were seeing peridot when I was seeing yellow with almost no green to speak of, their responses highlighted a couple of issues which contributed to the discrepancy. The most significant of these was in defining the word “peridot,” which is one of the most overused color adjectives in the absinthe world. (No one wants to say “it’s green” in every review, and since “tourmaline” sounds more like a rejected Chuck Berry song title than a color, “peridot” became the new black, so to speak.)

Wiki sums peridot up as follows: “Peridot is one of the few gemstones that occur in only one color, an olive green. The intensity and tint of the green, however, depends on how much iron is contained in the crystal structure, so the color of individual peridot gems can vary from yellow- to olive- to brownish-green.” It sounds simple enough, especially for we Americans who live in a culture of hyphenates; in this case, start with green, put a relevant hyphenated modifier in front of it, and you’re done. However, while more than one person linked to various photos of peridot gemstones online, and while I’m an internet junkie to roughly the same debilitating degree as the rest of our distracted modern first-world society, one of the areas in which computers do not excel is in the accurate display of color (even less so now that CRT monitors have been relegated to the scrap heap in favor of LCD screens, which are thinner and lighter but also generally suck in comparison). If you want to see the accurate representation of a color, particularly one which takes its name from a gemstone, then I recommend getting yourself to a jewelry store (“I’m just looking”), an artist’s color wheel, or better yet, a Pantone color book; with the Pantone book, you not only have an extremely comprehensive and accurate display of too many different shades of colors to count at your fingertips, but you have it bound in an extremely thick and heavy tool of bludgeoning to use as a weapon against anyone who disagrees with you about any damn thing.

Ultimately, I realized I was spending far too much time splitting hairs with fellow drinkers, so I decided to just have some absinthe. Please note that this line of thinking is almost always the wisest course to follow.

As a lark, and because I had too many bottles jammed into my absinthe cabinet to easily reach the ones in the back, I performed a little visual experiment to kill off a couple of nearly empty bottles. It just so happened that I had one dose (about 1.25 ounces, an approximation due to some variance between the hand-blown glasses) of both Belle Amie and Absinthe Brevans H.R. Giger left, and having a vague recollection of the extreme color differential between those two vertes, I decided to go for the hat trick and pour a dose of Blues Cat in between them. The results are below. Please note my caveat above and don’t think for a second that the colors you see on your screen are accurate in comparison to viewing them in real life with your own eyes; not only do you have the monitor display issue to think about, but you also have to contend with the fact that I’m a terrible photographer. Seriously, I used a brownish fake-formica background for this shot like I was taking a picture for the 1978 Sears catalog with my Kodak Brownie; it’s like I was trying too hard to not try at all, after my initial try at trying. In my defense, alcohol may have been a factor.

Anyway, I got some natural light angled in through the window, and what you’re seeing actually isn’t far off from the truth of things as I saw it. The Belle Amie on the far left is what I would consider to be a nearly textbook accurate representation of peridot; someone else described Blues Cat as being a “pale yellow peridot,” which I wouldn’t argue with now that the color changed a little bit since I first received the bottle; and lastly, there’s the Giger on the far right, which calls to mind its phonetic twin and the measuring of radioactivity – not in a negative “ohmygod, I’m gonna die!” sort of way, but more along the lines of, “this is the solution to the energy needs of a future utopian society.” Just be sure not to louche it with Ice-nine.

Speaking of louches, you can see those in the bottom photograph below. There’s even a video of this little experiment if you’re interested, complete with me mumbling to myself. All of these absinthes were louched at a water:absinthe ratio of 4:1 (without any sugar added), with the level of the Blues Cat being higher due to variations of the hand-blown glasses being used. Despite the fact that none of these three looked remotely similar, I’m happy to report that they all tasted very good, which ultimately leads to my most important observation of all for the evening: properly made absinthe is delicious, regardless of the color.

Belle Amie (left), Blues Cat (center), Absinthe Brevans H.R. Giger (right

Delaware Phoenix update – the Blues Cat is out of the bag!

The third Delaware Phoenix absinthe which last month I hinted at being in development has just had its label approved this week by the TTB. Congratulations to Cheryl Lins (the Master Distiller) and to the other three folks involved with the project. I can hardly wait to buy a bottle of this one! DP’s Walton Waters absinthe is still my favorite absinthe, with Meadow of Love not far behind, so it will be interesting to see how the new Blues Cat will rank among them. There’s no word yet about which ingredients were used in this one, but hopefully fish bones on the front label aren’t any indication!

In all seriousness though, note how DP specifies that their absinthe is “distilled with herbs and colored with herbs,” and don’t settle for anything less with your own absinthe. Unless you’re on a budget and can happen to find a good oil-mix absinthe (in which case, please let me know what it is, because boy are those difficult to find).

For more information about my thoughts on Walton Waters and Meadow of Love, please visit last month’s post here:
Spring fever is near, and the Delaware Phoenix is here

Blues Cat - front label