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Alan Moss

Is Absinthe in Danger of Becoming The New Mezcal?

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Sure, it is something to consider.

We can only speculate but what might have happened had there not been a ban on absinthe followed by prohibition? I'm sure there are many brands of whiskey, gin, etc... that also disappeared. Given the circumstances, I don't think it's remarkable that some disappeared but incredibly remarkable that Herbsaint survived.

 

Three New Orleans distillers, Legendre, Jung & Wulff, and Yochim, formed The New Orleans Absinthe Manufacturers Association with little success, Yochim was was the first to fall, followed by the buy out of Jung & Wulff, leaving Legendre to keep things alive in New Orleans. Legendre was the only one that had the resources beyond the liquor business to stay afloat.

 

Other distillers like Mohawk, and Schenley who were much larger than Legendre, as well as a couple of others tried without any success in gaining ground from Legendre, whose advantage in advertising, kept Herbsaint as the more well known product.

 

 

Joe, there is 'survived', and survived. Herbsaint (and I am sure a certain board member may take offense- when I mean NONE, :) ) has barely, barely survived. As it was pointed out, at the Herbsaint meeting itself at Tales.... Herbsaint exists almost entirely because of no more than 6 guys who just absolutely have kept it going.

 

It's more complex than that.

Herbsaint survives because the Sazerac Co. recognized how well Herbsaint fit into their own product line up, like Peychaud's bitters and bottled Sazerac cocktails, tailored to their own regional marketing. Sazerac was big enough to get Herbsaint into more territory, and absorb the cost of it becoming a cocktail ingredient, as well as a stand along regional drink.

 

The one advantage that modern absinthe has for the moment is online domestic sales, however if the tax hungry state liquor boards, get their way, (like my state) (Plus some greedy distributors) that advantage could vanish rapidly if online domestic sales are banned.

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I'm not convinced cocktails are the only answer, though I've no objection to them. Single-malt Scotch is doing fairly well, is it not? How often does one make a cocktail out of that?

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Just talking to someone who may be able to solve the problem(s) of recipe books/booklets and hangers/on package. He runs a vintage cocktail reprint/publishing company and has a large number of all out treasured vintage cocktail books in a computerized/digital format (as opposed to my analog format i.e. books on shelves ). He is in a good position to do any or all of the above depending upon interest.

My suggestion would be all of the above, tags and booklets for bottles and casual handouts for consumers, a real book or compendium for enthusiasts and for distributors to give out to bartenders so they can mix drinks with it. He can certainly pull the research/recipes together and come up with some ideas. Certainly would address some of the cocktail problem! Will keep everyone posted! (No pun intended) :wave2:

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I'm not convinced cocktails are the only answer, though I've no objection to them. Single-malt Scotch is doing fairly well, is it not? How often does one make a cocktail out of that?

Certainly not the only answer, but one way to increase consumption and awareness to keep things going.

Remember that Single Malts ( in recent history) only emerged as people became more educated and were looking for more different and diverse types/styles/expressions.

One of the problems with the public's perceptions of absinthe is they (for the most part) don't know the vast differences of style,taste, nuance etc., this is also the case with many importers and distributors.

Am example of what we could have is gin or rum. It used to be you had only a few of either and now there are 100's ( trust me I know - I had to work through 150 rums in 3 days at a judging and have at least 100 very different gins in my collection).

We need to spark interest in trying new absinthes and highlighting that each one is at least somewhat different and unique - getting sellers ( at whatever level) to stock many different ones and be able to speak about them and get people to explore them. We want to avoid it becoming a small niche and grow the catagory.

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The new boom in Rhums is also nice to see. Speaking of which, I just picked up the Hous Alpens Scarlet Ibis bespoke rum. For a 5-7 year old rum, it's very tasty stuff. I can happily say I now stock their entire line. :thumbup:

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I think we can get a Absinthe cocktail book together in about 1 months time.

Also can do smaller booklets or whatever else.

Is there any serious interest out there in these projects?

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I'll keep you guys updated and start calling on you when we get it started.

Will start a new thread just for the book.

My first thought is a a book of historical,documented cocktails for the first part (after history/origins etc.,) and then a what is happening today/where it's going now (or whatever we call it) for the second part of new cocktails and trends.

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St. Germain is a hugely successful liqueur, and it is immensely 'niche'. More? It is younger then almost any spirit out there. A few reasons. One... hell, it's friggin' tasty as heck! Beyond that though, he has done a fabulous job of marketing it. He attends every bar/spirit/industry event.

 

St. Germain is a hugely successful liqueur because it was bankrolled by Dad's success in selling Chambord for years before dumping it to Brown Forman for a couple hundred million dollars. Well, that, and, because of Chambord, they had a ready and willing distribution network all ready to go. Just like Grey Goose from Jagermeister.

 

St. Germain isn't even CLOSE to being a niche product by way of comparison to the spirits of nearly all craft distillers. It's a lovely, lovely liqueur, and their reps are super people (straight up), but that's a bit of a high bar for us to reach.

 

IMHO....just like craft beer has in the US....Absinthe will grow regionally. Distillery by distillery. Same thing for crafted Gin. Or Herbal liqueurs. Or malt whiskey. Or...

 

We don't walk into a single account without recipes in tow. I will say, though, that the serious bars never need them. I think that y'all's idea of an Absinthe cocktail recipe book is a great idea, btw.

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I saw someone mention the lack of willingness to set up an expensive fountain. I wonder if it would boost sales if an enterprising bar owner took the innitiative to install a nice--simple--automatic fountain somewhere off to the side. People would all be like "what the heck is that?" Boom, instant interest...

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And place a placard next to it with "easy to do" instructions ... maybe even pictures. So you don't have to tie up any of the staff having to explain it over and over and ....

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St. Germain isn't even CLOSE to being a niche product by way of comparison to the spirits of nearly all craft distillers. It's a lovely, lovely liqueur, and their reps are super people (straight up), but that's a bit of a high bar for us to reach.

 

 

Alright. I'll play along.

 

Describe to me how an elderflower liqueur isn't niche enough for you. Gimme, for example, the other major elderflower (or elderflower-esque) liqueurs out there, and rank them against St. G.

 

You make a good point (close to mine) that absinthe needs stronger distribution networks. I'm good with that. :)

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I never said that elderflower liqueur isn't a niche product. What I wrote was that St. Germain isn't a niche product by way of comparison to craft spirits. St. Germain is bankrolled by the family that brought us Chambord. Chambord is in every TGI Friday's in the country. By my definition, nothing sitting on the backbar of TGI Friday's is a niche product. I wouldn't be surprised in the least to see St. Germain sitting on those TGI backbars in the next few years. They're playing with different chess pieces.

 

I'll give you another example. Hypnotiq. What the hell is that stuff? Some weird blend of flavors with cognac and GNS. It's in its own category. Niche, right? I can promise you that that stuff sold more cases in its 1st full year of release than all the US craft distilleries combined.

 

That's all I mean. I was merely pointing out the reason that you see St. Germain everywhere, and that they do things like fly several bartenders in Cali. out to NYC for events because they're bankrolled big time. I'm just suggesting that maybe that's a bit more marketing than most of us Absinthe distillers can afford. I can do those things in our own market...which is one of the reasons that I believe that Absinthe, and other craft spirits, will grow regionally.

 

It's a delicious liqueur. No question. Top notch. And in my experience, they are great people. No small feat in the corporate booze world.

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If it's any help at all my use of the word niche and specifically niche market meant something that is not going to become widely known or used beyond a small following , I don't care who makes it or its quality - that was not the definition or use of the word I meant ( althought I do agree there are a lot of 'niche' products that remain niche because they are godawful crap. ) It is more about growing the category or spirit so it does not become or stay niche. Unless and until the general public learn that there is a lot of variety in absinthe and it is worth exploring (like all the different types of rum,whisk(e)y, gin, tequila, etc., etc.,) and importers, distributors and retailers (both shops and bars), recognize there is diversity and they should stock more and different absinthes for people to try and explore, it could rapidly devolve into a few (yes, heavily bankrolled most likely) brands being the only ones really left ( on a national or regional basis.)

 

Absinthe need to be popularized with education and appreciation to the masses as it were.

Also - as a sidebar - I support small producers on my site (spiritsreview.com) a lot and seek them out to do reviews of their products (it would be a lot simpler to just stick to the mainstream stuff that PR people are trying to foist off on me). I don't give extra points or lie in my reviews for them - I will gladly savage a bad product if it deserves it- but try to give them some much needed exposure.

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Perhaps this is related. I went on a hunt to 5 liquor stores yesterday to check out their absinthe stock. Out of all those stores the only brands I found were Lucid, Kübler, and "Absente". I asked the people working there--and in two cases it was the owner--and they all said that there is virtually zero demand for absinthe. Now, I'm in NY, specifically Long Island. We're crazy on this island, but I figured there had to be some interest. I went through the whole speech, and listed all the great new exciting brands being made right here in the US, and every time the answer was "Nah, we have no plans on carrying anything beyond what we have, nobody asks for it." And in pretty much every case, I got the wary evil eye. I snipped the whole "tripping" thing in the butt ASAP, and really tried my hardest, but seemingly to no avail.

 

I honestly think that the demand for absinthe will not grow--and may even stagnate--unless people are ordering it in bars, and refuse to accept crapsinthe. Until a "scene" grows for it, liquor stores won't carry it. If it becomes popular in bars then, and only then, will they go to their local liquor stores and say "you know what, that stuff was good, let me see if I can go pick up a bottle."

 

Absinthe is to "new" and too taboo in the layman mind to ever break out on notoriety alone. It's not going to be like the micro beer industry, which essentially grew because people started realizing that beer could actually, you know, have flavor and not taste like watered down cat piss. There are even bars near me that openly state they do not carry any Bud, Coors, or Miller beers. That's huge. We'll never see an absinthe Renaissance like that because it's not replacing something that is already old hat. A new whiskey has a market, so does rum, tequila. But absinthe has no fan base, if you will, besides people like us to sit around and naively (just couldn't think of a better word there) see absinthe as an obvious thing. It's not to most, and may never be unless it gets a sort of grassroots movement. A bar is more likely to order a couple of bottles if you go in all the time and drink it, therefore exposing other patrons to at least witnessing it, than a liquor store owner is to buy a case and have it sit on the shelf!

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Well said.

There only seem to be three responses to absinthe among the general public

1. I thought it was illegal, or that stuff they're selling isn't the real stuff and/or/because,

2. It makes you hallucinate, cut your ear off etc.,

3. Tried it, usually flamed, with water (not in a cocktail type drink) didn't hallucinate and didn't care for it.

The beer analogy was a very good one, and I'll take it a little further...

"I don't like beer", Which ones have you tried? "Budweiser, Miller, Michelob" (not that I am comparing extant absinthe brands to that!)

People don't know (and in some cases don't care ) that there are huge differences in style, taste,quality etc., - they try a couple (maybe) and rapidly lose interest.

I am referring to both consumers and sellers both. O.K. we are probably not going to get a PBS series (The Absinthe Hunter ? I don't think so ) but the beer analogy is a good analogy.

There are some stores that embrace the diversity in Absinthe - such as Balade en Provence in Antibes among others - but unless we educate and grow the category (and the publics awareness) we risk the shutdown of many brands except the most bankrolled.Unless the catagory gets more traction and more brands out there soon we run the risk of a systemic indifference and collapse.

Who wants to go back to ordering anything decent online because we can't get it here ?

Not from illegallity but indifference and lack of sales here?

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I've taken the beer mission as a personal hobby of mine, in that I've actively converted at least 5 people from beer-haters, to beer lovers, or at least, willingers. Yeah, my words today aren't in top form. Anyway, people don't know what their missing if they don't try it, and if all there is to try is swill, it will die right then and there. Absinthe is, more than anything, a new product. For all intents and purposes it has two things going against it; 1, nobody has ever heard of it and most people don't like to try new things. and 2, those who do know, already have standoffish feelings for it that, like tribal knowledge, are even harder to break through than someone who is a willing blank slate!

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On the cocktail booklet.

 

One thing I would like to see (as someone who is an ignoramus about cocktails) is an index showing how the absinthe is used in the cocktail. Going through the list on the main site there were these kinds of categories:

 

* absinthe as the dominant liquor in the drink

* absinthe paired equally with other drinks

* absinthe paired with another liquor that is dominant in the drink

* absinthe used as a nuance, or flavor enhancer

 

A lot of the gin+absinthe drinks that people said they liked were in the 3rd category. The sazerac is in the 4th category, mostly whiskey, but a little absinthe, sugar, water, and lemon peel. The second category seemed to be focused on how drunk can you get, how fast.

 

This kind of index I think would help people, and perhaps knowledgeable people.

 

 

On the idea of absinthe being a "niche" beverage, why is that bad? I'm sure for many people, it would be nice to walk into your local liquor store and if not buy a bottle, be able to order it. I presume people mean something that they like better than Lucid/Kübler.

 

Not being "niche" is what Leopold said: every TGI Fridays is going to have it, and all of you will say "That's nasty!". It'll be NS with flavorings and coloring.

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I don't know if being a niche drink is all that bad. If it has a loyal fan base, and that is enough for distilleries to keep running and at least be somewhat profitable, it might not be terrible. Personally, with becoming mainstream, absinthe might fall subject to forces which nobody can defeat, such as it being marketed as the "it" drink, something like a cross between energy drinks and drug-like intake. I'm just saying that it could be best for it to stay under the radar and not be raped by commercialism like everything else. Unfortunately that puts a damper on profitability for individual distillery owners.

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I don't know if being a niche drink is all that bad. If it has a loyal fan base, and that is enough for distilleries to keep running and at least be somewhat profitable, it might not be terrible. Personally, with becoming mainstream, absinthe might fall subject to forces which nobody can defeat, such as it being marketed as the "it" drink, something like a cross between energy drinks and drug-like intake. I'm just saying that it could be best for it to stay under the radar and not be raped by commercialism like everything else. Unfortunately that puts a damper on profitability for individual distillery owners.

Depends on the size of your niche. I originally meant a small niche or maybe more to the point - shelf space and general availability. We need to convince people in the supply chain that one does not a absinthe choice make , either in a distributors portfolio or on a store shelf. How many different rums, tequila,scotches (or dare I mention? ) vodkas, do they carry? My poster child for this is of course Mezcal, how many years did Mezcal aficionados have to suffer only being able to buy Monte Alban or just one or two other just this side of poisonous crap brands because of all the rumors and lack of knowledge?

As to Absinthe not being raped by commercialism - czechzinth, flaming, green moon, do it yourself kits, need I go on? O.K., It's not the big potential abusers of taste , that have come up with mass marketed bad ideas (yet) but it's happened already by smaller player. The fact that the big boys on the block haven't tried also (unfortunate in some ways) reinforces my point- they don't see it going anywhere either - not even enough to exploit it. Sad but true.

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I think it may be true that the only real chance of keeping absinthe on the shelf at most bars is going to be its use, essentially as bitters, in cocktails, at least for the time being. However...

 

I'm not sure that bars are the only, or even the best, way to introduce absinthe to America. I think more of an effort should be made to sell absinthe in restaurants as an aperitif. I feel like the introduction of absinthe to the American palate will be done by putting it head to head with its ancient enemy, wine. That was how absinthe got its start, in the first place, winning over the French during a period when wine was off the menu. Bars are a harder sell. Party kids and people out for a good time on a Friday night are not in the right frame of mind to try something like absinthe, at least not for their first time. This is why flaming shots are easier to move at a busy bar than a slow drip, they appeal to the party mood.

 

Wait until those people are out on a date, about to order wine or a drink before dinner, or after. Then mention absinthe as an option. Tableside fountain service, for a great show, or just a fountain or nice carafe left on your table adds an aura to the drink. A subtle, historied aperitif before or after a great meal. It still carries the cachet of being new and different, but now it comes with some reason to expect that it will be a refined taste worth paying attention to. It could do very well in that setting, when people are prepared to take their time appreciating a glass of something special.

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I think more of an effort should be made to sell absinthe in restaurants as an aperitif.

Yes. Most definitely.

 

Not only will this help to keep consumption volumes higher (restaurants who serve full doses go through more absinthe than a bar that uses it like bitters), it will also hit a different demographic.

 

Many bars who use absinthe in cocktails only use Kübler, and they practically put it in a mister for their cocktails. It's the cheapest of the lot and comes in a larger size. A bottle could last months in that type of system.

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