Most bartenders don’t need to be educated about absinthe – but there’s no doubt that their customers do.
The house parties I went to as a teenager coincided with the popular UK revival of absinthe – as well as the release of Moulin Rouge – so I couldn’t be any more ignorant about absinthe.
I genuinely believed that the rituals invented in 1998 dated back to the Belle Epoque. I assumed the spirit was reserved for three-drink-limit cocktails like Corpse Revivers, and I also thought it was always green.
Boy, was I in for a surprise. Alan Moss kicked the evening off with a bit of backstory – he’s the co-owner of Swiss-made absinthe La Clandestine and brand ambassdor for Butterfly and an absinthe blogger.
Absinthe was first made by the Swiss as a painkiller and, like gin, it has a mix of botanicals and is a clear spirit. It was also popular with the Americans but after the French and US banned it, it was roundly ignored in the UK until distributors realised its potential.
Absinthe can be served like a pastis – made louche or milky with drips of water – but as Purl demonstrated it’s a good replacement for cachaça in a caipirinha as well as a weird complement to mint, cream and honey because the high ABV holds its own against dairy ingredients.
The spirit’s also suitable for molecular tricks, according to Purl owner Tristan Stephenson – provided you lower the ABV to make it more stable during reactions. He talked about drawing on green fairy mythology to create absinthe bubbles or air to replace the absinthe rinse in a Sazerac.
It’s bound to resurface as the demand for classic Savoy-era and ‘Speakeasy’ drinks come to the fore. I was shocked to hear that the original Savoy cocktail book had 104 cocktails that included absinthe, compared with 3 vodka drinks.
The bar trade might have been experts on absinthe cocktails for a century now but, given the myths that fill consumers’ heads, it would do to share that expertise around.
Try making a modern absinthe cocktail for yourself tonight. The Clandestino is the most accessible drink for the mojito generation, and Butterfly Kiss matches the minty flavour of its spirit with the heaviness of cream.
- 3 Key limes
- 3-4 Tsps sugar
- 45ml Absinthe (La Clandestin)
- Crushed ice
Muddle the limes and sugar then shake over crushed ice and serve.
Recipe: Marcelo Godoy Simões, Brazil/Colorado.
- 30ml Absinthe (Butterfly)
- 30ml Honey syrup (1:1 honey and hot water)
- 15ml Cream
Shake over ice and strain. Serve in a coupe, garnish with a mint leaf.
Recipe: Brian Fernald, Boston.