Absinthe, Absinthe & More Absinthe

Updated 07/23/2009.

Tales of the Cocktail 2009 is now over. From the opening ceremony Wednesday, July 8 (celebrating the 75th anniversary of NOLA’s own Herbsaint), to the Wormwood Society’s grand soirée closing things out on Sunday night, it was a whirlwind of boozing, networking and learning.

atalescreolejulepTales of the Cocktail’s official cocktail, the Creole Julep, on the bar at Cure.

I went to last year’s Tales (my first) because I had been assigned to write a feature on absinthe and its return to the market in general and to New Orleans in particular. Alright, not so much assigned to write it as having the editors accept my suggestion that absinthe would be a great topic.

2007 was the year the first genuine absinthe, made with grand wormwood, Lucid, was cleared for sale in the U.S. I learned later that there was plenty of absinthe to go around in New Orleans, if you knew who to talk to, but that’s another story. Some friends of mine began drinking it after they discovered Acquistapace’s Covington Supermarket was carrying it in November of 2007. That was my first exposure to the spirit. By July 2008, when Tales took place, there were eight or so brands available legally here. During Tales of the Cocktail 2009; 55 or so are now available, with more in the approval pipeline.

atalesTedT. A. Breaux, absinthe pioneer, creator of Lucid and distiller of the Jade line of premium absinthes.

The first day at Tales, I ran into T. A. Breaux, the guy who really pushed and did a lot of the leg work in getting absinthe back (legally) into the U. S. I snapped his picture with my phone, (excuse the quality) and didn’t realise I would be running into him (and luckily, it turned out, his products) quite often in the next few days.

A New Orleans native, and chemist by trade, Breaux analysed vintage, pre-ban absinthes, and discovered that these well-crafted spirits contained less the maximum amount of the chemical that caused absinthe to be banned in the first place—thujone—than was permitted by U. S. law. He went on to reverse-engineer absinthes he had chemically analysed, eventually coming up with the Jade line of premium absinthes, and Lucid, an absinthe made the old-fashioned way with more readily available ingredients that’s crafted and priced for more of a mass market.

I’m a real big fan of his Jade Nouvelle-Orléans, having sampled it earlier this year (it was approved for sale late October, 2008). In tasting, it was lighter and more complex than the other brands I had tasted up to that point; but with more layers of flavors that developed as it lingered in my mouth.

atalesjadeBest souvenir ever—bottle of Jade Nouvelle-Orléans signed
by maker T. A. Breaux.

The name, Nouvelle-Orléans, held great appeal for me, as did Breaux’s story behind its creation. He explained while the other Jades are his re-creations of vintage absinthe brands, Nouvelle-Orléans is completely his own recipe, wanting to make a testament to the early days of absinthe in New Orleans, when it was taken as a medicinal drink. If you want to see how its made, the show Modern Marvels on the History Channel featured a segment of Breaux producing a batch of Nouvelle-Orléans at the Combier distillery in Saumur, France. Here’s a YouTube video of the episode.

Back to Tales of the Cocktail. One of the things I had signed up for was the Green Hour, and it appeared to be a seminar-type event. I was wrong. It was a festival celebrating the flood of absinthe that’s come into the country since last year. Just about every manufacturer/importer was set up in the place, pouring generous samples of brands I had read about and wanted to try but would never be able to afford to taste all in one, maybe two, years. (Absinthe is an expensive habit, look to pay at least $50 for a bottle of one of the decent brands, and higher for premium absinthe, like Nouvelle-Orléans (around $110/bottle)). Not only were some European-made brands newly approved for sale in the U. S. represented, there were also some sampled that are now domestically produced.

Breaux was serving Nouvelle-Orléans, a real treat; Gwydion Stone, founder of the Wormwood Society, was pouring Marteau, an absinthe produced to his specifications in Switzerland as of last year’s Tales, but is now produced by him personally at a Portland, Oregon distillery.

atalesGwydionGwydion Stone at the Green Hour event.

New brands that were on my “too try” list that were being served included Vieux Carre (U. S. produced; another winner on name alone, a solid, if a little minty, product); La Clandestine (a clear Swiss absinthe with a great story behind it at their site; it’s tied for second place with Marteau as my new faves behind Nouvelle-Orléans), La Fée Absinthe Parisienne (not a fave); Duplais, Vieux Pontalier and Mansinthe, all products of distributed by Tempus Fugit Spirits (first two very nice; Mansinthe, o.k.); Pacifique (another domestically-produced winner) rounded out the first evening of absinthe, absinthe and more absinthe. Update: Pacifique is distributed by Tempus Fugit Spirits as well.

It wasn’t over. The next day, Breaux was serving up his verison of the absinthe frappe, made with Nouvelle-Orléans and a splash of ginger beer in one of the open tasting rooms. La Clandestine and Lucid (all three brands are distributed by Viridian Spirits, who hosted the event) also were sampled.

Finally, the Wormwood Society Grande Soiree d’Absinthe on Sunday, the last day of Tales. Many of the same players were present. It was upstairs at Muriel’s on Jackson Square. Again, several brands were tasted; some I had not seen before (notably St. George, which was getting a lot of buzz).

atalesbottlesAbsinthe lined up at the Wormwood Society Grande Soiree d’Absinthe.

Good food (boiled shrimp, raw oysters and creole jambalaya) and great company. It was great seeing veryone who helped with my research last year—Breaux, Stone, the gang from La Maison d’Absinthe: Cary Bonnecaze, store manager Amanda, Ray Bordelon and his brother B. J.; absinthe photographer Damian Hevia—as well as a bunch of people I had met on Twitter (@Fac104, @LunaNola and @laurabergerol) were all there.

Can’t wait until next year.

Tags: , , , , , ,

3 Responses to Absinthe, Absinthe & More Absinthe

  1. Dang Yankee on July 25, 2009 at 9:47 am

    Great post about the absinthe. There are a few of us here on the other end of the state who are also afficianados of the green fairy. Didn’t realize that so many brands were available! The event must have been a blast!

  2. Nola on July 31, 2009 at 2:06 pm

    So thirsty now! Great pics!

  3. […] written a couple of posts through the years about absinthe, that old French spirit that remains shrouded in mystery and misinformation despite it being on the […]

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *