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No longer absinthe in Hub: Long-banned nectar flows once again in Boston bars

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No longer absinthe in Hub

Long-banned nectar flows once again in Boston bars

 

44f09fa122_absinthe11122007.jpg

By Dave Wedge | Monday, November 12, 2007 | http://www.bostonherald.com | Local Coverage

Photo

Photo by John Wilcox

 

After nearly a century of being banned in the United States, restrictions on absinthe - a supposedly mind-altering alcoholic potion touted by artists from Oscar Wilde to Marilyn Manson - have been lifted and the mystical liquid is flowing freely at Hub hotspots.

 

Several Hub bars are already serving up the mysterious nectar, which was strictly prohibited in the United States until Swiss absinthe maker Kübler won federal approval earlier this year.

 

“For many, many years the government just said, ‘No, you can’t do this.’ But they never had very good reasons for saying no,” said Washington, D.C.-based attorney Robert Lehrman, who represented Kübler in its successful fight against the Department of the Treasury’s Tax and Trade Bureau.

 

“There seems to be a worldwide movement away from treating this like a witch or a superstition toward some sort of normalization of the law around absinthe,” Lehrman added.

 

While some reports suggest that the feds only approved a tamed-down version of the storied drink, importer Lyons Brown says the Kübler brand now on the shelves of Hub bars and liquor stores is “the real thing.”

 

“This is a fourth generation Kübler making this and it’s exactly the same formula that his grandfather introduced in 1863,” Brown said of maker Yves Kübler. “They did not want to compromise any aspects of the formula.”

 

Containing more than 60 percent alcohol, the controversy stems from one of the beverage’s active ingredients - Artemisia absinthium, or wormwood. More specifically, thujone, a chemical in wormwood, is said to have psychedelic qualities.

 

The current federal approval mandates that absinthe have “zero” thujone, although the definition of zero actually allows less than less than 10 parts per million. Kübler has nine parts thujone per million.

 

“It’s barely measurable but the same as the original formula,” Brown says.

 

Imported absinthe was banned by the U.S. Agriculture Department in 1912 after other countries instituted prohibitions. The bans followed an allegedly absinthe-fueled 1906 killing spree in Switzerland.

 

Laws in Europe began to change back in the 1990s and the Swiss government legalized it in 2004. Kübler began its United States fight in 2003 and received formal federal approval in May. Importing began a few weeks ago with Boston as one of the test cities, along with New York and Las Vegas.

 

“We’re reintroducing a category with all this mystique that hasn’t been present in the U.S. in almost 100 years,” Brown said. “And it’s suddenly now legal and available. There’s a lot of curiosity.”

 

Devin Adams, bar manager at Lucca’s in the North End, has been experimenting with absinthe cocktails and says the drink is an intriguing “novelty.” Among the popular concoctions is a champagne and absinthe mix that was novelist Ernest Hemingway’s drink of choice.

 

“We’re having a little bit of fun with it,” Adams said. “It’s an acquired taste. Hopefully, we’ll make some cool cocktails with it and see where it goes.”

 

Kübler distiller Peter Karl, in a phone interview from the Swiss Alps where the liquor is made, said the U.S. approval has the small plant running around the clock.

 

Karl was in Boston last week to launch the American market push and said he was “very impressed with the knowledge in Boston.”

 

“It seems to be a city for the absinthe elite,” he said.

Article URL: http://www.bostonherald.com/news/regional/...ticleid=1044126

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I share your excitement. But I worry....

with absinthe cocktails and says the drink is an intriguing “novelty.”

 

My only hope is that it doesn’t become marketed as purely a novelty- I can see crowds of fresh 21 yr olds bopping into the local hip-joint to order their first round of “Absinthe” before taking a number of shots and singing karaoke and dancing on the bar.

 

If bars serve Absinthe cocktails or in the traditional way, I want to be the only person sitting in the corner dripping one- even if the teeny-boppers are doing flaming shots of it at the bar. There has to be some sanctity left- before commodification eats our beloved tastes and traditions alike.

 

Or perhaps I am just a pessimist.

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I share your excitement. But I worry....

with absinthe cocktails and says the drink is an intriguing “novelty.”

 

My only hope is that it doesn’t become marketed as purely a novelty- I can see crowds of fresh 21 yr olds bopping into the local hip-joint to order their first round of “Absinthe” before taking a number of shots and singing karaoke and dancing on the bar.

 

If bars serve Absinthe cocktails or in the traditional way, I want to be the only person sitting in the corner dripping one- even if the teeny-boppers are doing flaming shots of it at the bar. There has to be some sanctity left- before commodification eats our beloved tastes and traditions alike.

 

Or perhaps I am just a pessimist.

 

I quite agree. The very last thing we need is for alcopops with absinth(e) to spring up and the resulting carnage to yield another Lets Blame Absinthe For Our Cultural Ills.

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Personally, I'm hoping for "BLING" absinthe fountains. ;)

 

Commercialism/marketing with absinthe is going to happen more as it rolls out in the US market. There was commercialism/marketing in 19th century France too. My primary concern is availability and variety at this point - I don't pay attention to marketing anyway.

 

You can't do anything but let people do with absinthe what they will. If they do shots of it, they'll just look dumb. It won't stop me from enjoying it the way it was meant to be enjoyed. You're going to have people do stupid things with any sort of alcoholic beverage. The really important thing is that there is finally absinthe on shelves in the US after almost 100 years, and that has been the goal all along. We can look forward to a larger selection and variety in the future. The problem with absinthe in the US stems from ignorance, and that's what we're all working on, one flaming shot at a time. Once you take care of ignorance, many people will fall in line. And there is now good science to dispute any "let's blame absinthe" argument that may arise.

 

Personally, I don't want to be the only one in a bar drinking absinthe in the traditional way -- I would love to go into a bar and find absinthe fountains and carafes on tables, with people enjoying it as it was meant to be enjoyed. I think that's what most of us here hope for - not exclusivity, but inclusivity. I guess we have to hope that bartenders and bar owners are educated and can pass on proper information to people who would want to do shots. For example, if a person orders a shot of absinthe, serve it to them in an absinthe glass, and give them a carafe or glass of water and maybe a couple of sugar cubes. When they ask what that's for, explain everything to them. Chances are that they had no idea. Maybe they'll like it, maybe not, but at least they'll know.

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You may be on to something there, with the glasses. Even the most basic bar knows to serve wine in wine glasses, a martini in a martini glass, a highball in a highball glass, and so on. So...maybe if at the very least absinthe gets served in an "absinthe glass", it would eventually work into getting served the full get up of glass, carafe, sugar, spoon. I'm having difficulty putting into words just exactly what defines an absinthe glass except the dose line/dose chamber and short stem, but you get the picture.

 

I can't wait until all of us can sit at a bar or table in a nightclub and get a carafe and glass with a shot of Jade already in it. No fuss, no muss, just able to do the right thing where we want to do it.

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Now that it seems that absinthe has moved into the modern era, do you think absinthe glasses will also reflect this time, or continue to look as they did in the epoch?

 

Would a modern "looking" fountain still appeal to absintheurs?

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If the absinthe bonque is any indication of modern "stlyle", I certainly hope the old school glasses continue to be the standard.

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Well said metodd. Honestly, I agree with you. I think I was more overly-bitter when I first posted. Its all popular culture- that’s all. Yes, the goal all along is the same- and you are dead right about the ignorance and the need to educate. Especially in with that way you, and Speedle speak of the bar, and the glasses. That puts a more hero-esque spin to it, with our duty to teach the correct ways and appreciations.

 

I think I am just pessimistic in general; I shouldn’t let worries ruin the good times that we may all revel in the months and years to come. I just hate to think putting a fresh new ‘year 2000’ spin on Absinthe when I find its old charm perfect. But, what with rappers not having 24 karat fountains and jewel encrusted Absinthe spoons- eh. Maybe it won’t get to that point.

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I saw someone mentioning that if someone's doing "shots" of absinthe said person was NOT giving absinthe the consideration or respect it desreves.

 

Well that is a wonderfully elitist (and perhep ignorant) attitude, as I have found that sipping it neat slowly like one would sip B&B to be an exquisite experience. Then again I am not a stupid young 20's something, therefore I don't down shot like they're water. Nor have I EVER vomited due to sipping it straight.

 

Like sipping fire that has been flavored by the very earth herself.

 

At least the "Jade" line of products give that sensation.

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While I respect your opinion, I also must note that due to the high alcohol content of absinthe, it's extremely difficult to enjoy all of the flavors that you can find in it without adding at least some water.

 

It's interesting to taste it both ways. You'll find that there's a world of difference. I normally take a sip neat before louching up a glass for a review, just to see how the flavors develop.

 

Also keep in mind that this is coming from someone who enjoys drinking most other alcohols (gin, bourbon, rye, tequila, scotch, etc) neat on a regular basis.

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Sipping at a neat drink is not the same thing as doing shots. Throwing a shooter down yer gullet definitely is not giving the absinthe the attention it deserves. Sipping it neat is something I've done from time to time, but then again, if you never add frosty cold water to it and try it the way the distiller intended, you're certainly missing out on the absinthe experience.

 

As for bars serving absinthe properly, don't hold your breath. The Cantada Bar in Paris is the only bar I've been to that prides itself on serving a wide variety of absinthes. They even have fountains on the counter, and they're made from those lab-funnels, which are both hyper-controlable and modern/cool looking.

 

BUT, the fountains are not kept full, because it's too much bother to keep the water inside icy cold all night for the tiny number of customers that would care, and so the few people who do order absinthe recieve a carafe of room temp water, and the same look from the bartender that you get from a waitress when you ask them to make you hot tea instead of just pouring a cup of coffee.

 

I suspect this is what we have to look forward to. A few places that play to the new fad may try to do the fountain thing, but will tire of it quickly. Most places in America can only serve pastis in a drinkable way if you order a "tall Pernod and water with one or two cubes of ice". (that comes after years of trying other ways of ordering it)

 

The only place I've been served absinthe correctly was at l'Aigle hotel in Couvet, where they brought out our drinks on a tray, already poured to the dose line in Bugnon's "la Clandestine" publicity glasses, and left a carafe of ice water on the table with them. Let us set our hopes there...

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Well that is a wonderfully elitist (and perhep ignorant) attitude

 

There's nothing elitist or ignorant about it, period. That's how people drank Absinthe in the Belle Epoque, so, it's traditionally accurate. And as has already been stated, there is big difference between people doing shots and enjoying something neat. I've been to Prague and have seen people doing shots of czechsinthe, and I don't want that kind of thing to happen here.

 

My whole spiel was about education and INCLUDING -- not excluding -- people. What's elitist about that?

It's really quite the opposite.

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I went back and looked at Marcel's picture from that day at l'Aigle, and realized that they had actually brought us a covered version of the much-maligned Versinthe fountain to leave on our table, because we clearly meant to spend some time there drinking absinthe.

2064097416_acb61e2513.jpg

Photo: Marcel

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I normally take a sip neat before louching up a glass for a review, just to see how the flavors develop.

 

I'm right with you there, Shabba! :cheers:

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I have found that sipping it neat slowly like one would sip B&B to be an exquisite experience.
I normally take a sip neat before louching up a glass for a review, just to see how the flavors develop.
Sipping at a neat drink is not the same thing as doing shots.

Looks to me like there is a lot agreement here. I know I agree with all three of you. ;)

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I completely agree that louching and enjoying the conventional way to drink absinthe is also a wonderful experience. I enjoy it both ways.

 

What I wanted to express is that tasting it neat and actually feeling the complexity of the drink is something worth considering as well as with iced water.

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I find that the complexity is not harmed by the water. Quite the opposite, in fact. Absinthe's aromas and flavours don't bloom until louched. The difference is very stark to me. Although with absinthe it's a relatively acute effect it's not unique. Whisky nosers add water to the spirit bringing it down to as low as 20% ABV to bring out the aromas to the fullest.

 

Every absinthe I get I taste neat. It just never compares in complexity or subtlety to a louched glass. To each their own of course.

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Well at the end of the day what it all really goes back to, as we all agree, is respect. Respect and education. A lot of people do things without taking the time to respect exactly what it is that is behind what they are doing- Absinthe being one of them.

 

I have sampled it neat as well, to get a flavour; its almost like wine tasting if you will. Makes you appreciate the complexity, I agree Hedon. And strengthens the gums. And it cures what ales ya. ;)

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Ugh. Civility has prevailed again. Oh well.

 

Regarding more pressing matters, I think that most of you (who have not already) should get settled with the fact that there will be a novelty market and poor advertising campaigns associated with absinthe's return to the states. To me, this is simply something that's going to happen and consequentially I've come to terms with it. I no more like it than want it to happen; however, it will happen so start detaching your sensibilities from it now before you give yourself an anxiety disorder!

 

As for sipping absinthe neat, I like to as well. I do not do it regularly, but when I get a new bottle I'll open it, poor out a shot, let it air out for 10 or 15 minutes then go back and smell it after the first alcohol has began to evaporate -- this way I can get a much better idea of the nose. After that I'll take just the slightest bit from the glass and sip it to see how abrasive it is alcohol-wise. After that it's louche and taste.

 

I'll generally never sip a whole shot/drink neat though, but I respect the action of it.

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And here I was, getting all excited over the sight of two bottles of Lucid in the reserve case of Blanchard's.

 

I always seem to be late for the party. ;)

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