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Alan Moss

Absinthe in the NYT

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Today.

 

Members may be surprised by the results. They tasted 19 plus Absente and their top 10 were as follows:-

 

1. Kübler

2= Grande Absente

2= Pernod

2= Vieux Pontarlier

5= St. George

5= Nouvelle-Orleans

5= Obsello

8= La Clandestine

8= Lucid

8= Mansinthe

 

and another note in the same writer's blog.

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The comments in the blog include this interesting note:

 

"I am the owner and importer of Le Tourment Vert absinthe.

 

I just read your blog and article about absinthe.

 

I am an avid reader of your column and respect your opinions tremendously.

 

Thus I’m sure you can imagine my disappointment when I read your mention of Le Tourment Vert.

 

When we first designed the product we considered a number of directions.

 

The most obvious and simple was a re-creation of absinthe as it existed pre-ban.

 

In fact we made several prototypes which were very similar to many of the brands now selling in the US - Pernod, Lucid, Kübler, Mati Hari, etc.

 

We were proud of these but there were several concerns:

 

1. The high proof limited their appeal. Retailers in the 21st century are very reluctant to sell products over 100 proof.

 

2. They often required the ritual of dilution and sweetening which is a wonderful experience initially but becomes impractical in sustained usage.

 

3. The high bitterness levels of traditional absinthes were found to be unpleasant to many modern day consumers.

 

4. Perhaps most important, the traditional absinthe formulas often mixed poorly in cocktails beyond small dashes and doses.

 

Our conclusion was that truly traditional absinthes would have limited commercial appeal in the modern era. A lot has changed in the last 100 years.

 

We thought this would be unfortunate.

 

Given the importance of absinthe in history and it’s unique mythology, we thought it was important that our absinthe be commercially viable while still being respectful of the segment’s tradition.

 

Our goal was to provide an authentic absinthe which could be versatile enough to be served in all the ways todays consumers might want - traditional with sugar and water, straight and mixed as full measure in cocktails.

 

Mixlogy in cocktails has always been our key objective. As you know, over 90% of all spirit drinks sold in the US are served in cocktails.

 

The resurgence of the cocktail culture has been an exciting development, bringing tremendous vitality and creativity back to the spirits segment.

 

We wanted absinthe to be part of this cocktail renaissance.

 

Towards this end we made several critical choices in final product development:

 

1. We limited it at 100 Proof.

 

2. We lowered the anise levels so as to not be too bitter.

 

3. Probably most controversially, we added to the color for visual appeal versus the more dishwater character of traditional absinthe louche.

 

It has been nearly two years since absinthes began selling in the US again.

 

As we look at the market, much of our ingoing concerns are being realized.

 

The flavors and alcohol proof are often too intense for broad scale consumption.

 

The requirement of serving with sugar and water is proving to be impractical and viewed as somewhat of a gimmick by retailers.

 

And many mixologists are largely at a loss as to how to incorporate absinthe into cocktails beyond small dashes.

 

The result, not surprisingly, is that many absinthes are gathering dust on shelves.

 

This is not the case with Le Tourment Vert.

 

Our sales are growing. We are number one in the BevMo chain. Major on-premise retailers such as Hard Rock, House of Blues and the Gerber Group are selling “Tourmented” cocktails successfully. We’re the #3 selling spirit at the Palms in Las Vegas. And Virgin America began selling the Tourment “Mile High Cocktail” on all US flights May 1st.

 

We don’t claim that Le Tourment Vert is the finest absinthe. The reality is that we respect a variety of absinthes for their traditional attributes and quality including Marteau, Lucid, Kübler, Mati Hari and many others.

 

Like any segment, we believe it will take a number of good brands to successfully re-establish absinthe as a viable sustaining segment in the US spirits industry.

 

We simply want our contribution to be versatility and mixology.

 

We tell people Le Tourment Vert is a “cocktail absinthe”.

 

This is a goal that has been viewed with far more controversy and vitriol that I ever imagined from absinthe traditionalists.

 

You would think we had walked on the holy shroud.

 

Yet as we meet them one by one and explain our story, they seem to understand us and have an appreciation (albeit grudging) of our role in advancing the absinthe segment.

 

Ultimately, they recognize that we are a good entry point for consumers interested in the segment and provide a ladder for them to climb towards more traditional brands.

 

Would it be possible for us to meet? I think it would be very helpful for me to get your objective opinion after you experience the brand as it was intended - in cocktails.

 

We are hosting a dinner with chef Stephan Richter in New York on Tuesday June 2nd. Perhaps you would like to come?

 

In any event, I hope you’ll consider our point of view and look forward to hearing from you.

 

All the best,

 

Minott

 

Minott Wessinger

Vinet Ege Importers"

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So much in this makes one :huh: so I'll pare my response down to one "no comment":

 

2. We lowered the anise levels so as to not be too bitter.

 

I'm too tired to give a proper response to comments #6 and #7 on the second article you link. Anyone?

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Can I suggest a co-ordinated response, probably from Brian?

 

There's a lot to respond to, and if we can do so in a logical co-ordinated way, it may seem much better.

 

Where to begin?!

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You know, just off the cuff, it sounds like he's trying to create a niche market by implying that traditional absinthe is shit for cocktails. Just repeatedly saying "we're a cocktail absinthe" doesn't prove that 1) it's a true statement 2) other absinthes aren't 3) we're going to believe him. This is the problem with smart marketing for a crap product. I could take a log of dog shite, press it into a bar, cover it in chocolate and sprinkle confectioner's sugar on top, but that doesn't mean that the content of the bar has ceased to be shite. Worse yet, if I came up with a sexy package and then promoted it as a more natural candy bar, it's possible that I might sucker people into buying it.

 

I think it's admirable that he's being respectful about traditional absinthes, but it seems to have an edge of a backhanded compliment at the same time, which negates the sweetness. That's like saying, "if you really want the flavor of an ancient absinthe that doesn't mix well with anything, then go with the other brands because they taste amazing."

 

I like that he wants to market a product that can be used as a mixer. But don't stick absinthe on the label if it bears no resemblance to absinthe. He makes the assertion that people in the US basically don't like the taste or proof of absinthe, and then tries to justify removing all of those offensive flavors and then adding a bunch of colors and nonsense in order to make people like it better. But that's not helping them to like absinthe. That's helping them to like some green colored pee that is labeled as absinthe, which is fine for him but terrible for legitimate absinthe.

 

Booo on the product, and booo on the logic.

 

Let's call this stuff what it is, which is most certainly not absinthe.

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Where to begin?!

 

Indeed.

 

Obviously, it's tough to take seriously any "best of" list of domestically-available absinthes that starts out with Kübler (respectable though it may be) and moves on to Grande Absente and Pernod. These are the top three absinthes in the U.S.? Better than VP, Jade N-O, Obsello, and Clandestine--even St. George, Lucid, and Mansinthe? Better than Marteau, Leopold, Pacifique, Vieux Carre, Walton Waters, and Meadow of Love, which don't even make the list (but which, except for Leo, are readily available in NYC)? Really? In what universe?

 

The problem here, clearly, is the same one we've seen with absinthe rankings at international spirits competitions. The evaluators have no experience judging absinthes. Asimov even admits to this in his blog entry, saying that he's tasted absinthe "a few times before." At least he recognizes that "absinthe connoisseurs often seem to prefer" more complex absinthes like Jade N-O "to the bottles that we favored." But isn't this a somewhat self-damning statement? Would Asimov seriously favor simple spirits over complex ones if the tasting involved scotch, gin, or tequila? Of course not! Clearly, he needs more experience with absinthe before offering his opinion. Apparently, however, he doesn't feel he needs to educate himself, since absinthe has a "limited appeal."

 

As to the Wessinger post, I couldn't agree more with Ron's sentiment:

 

 

I like that he wants to market a product that can be used as a mixer. But don't stick absinthe on the label if it bears no resemblance to absinthe.

 

Let's call this stuff what it is, which is most certainly not absinthe.

 

Wessinger himself says that he's trying to create a product that is different from traditional absinthe--one that will "appeal" to the tastes of modern drinkers. Why, then, pitch a hissy fit when your product isn't judged alongside absinthes that are trying to replicate traditional recipes, however poorly (hello Grande Absinthe and Pernod!)

 

Pathetic.

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Damn, I threw grew up on that once venerable paper.

 

So much for the worldly sophistication of the New York Times...again. :thumbdown:

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Well ranted, gentlemen. Dare I say, ditto.

 

I think the article does deserve an official response from WS. Brian? Gwydion? Who has this one?

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What gets me about this is that they are saying that they wanted to sell an Absinthe to get in on it while it is hot, but that they they really didn't want to make a real Absinthe because they didn't think they could sell it longterm, once the bandwaggoners dropped out. They were more concerned with marketing than producing Absinthe. Follow the money you'll get to the truth.

 

I've (unfortunately) tried LTV. I've got a nearly full bottle on the bar right now. Not only is it not Absinthe, but it's just not good, whatever it was called, it simply tastes bad. It looks and tastes like my mouthwash, seriously, I've compared them side by side. It's not a verte or a blanche, it's blue. It has no hint of anise. It does not louche. It tastes, well, IMHO, bad. That's it. It just tastes bad. I suppose that's why they need to market it as a "cocktail absinthe". Because on it's own it's undrinkable. I haven't tried mixing it with cranberry juice yet, maybe that'll jazz it up to a consumable level.

 

It does come in a lovely bottle though. That's some nice marketing there boy I gotta admit.

 

If I order a steak I expect some beef in it.

 

//rant off

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Well ranted, gentlemen. Dare I say, ditto.

 

I think the article does deserve an official response from WS. Brian? Gwydion? Who has this one?

 

IMHO, it's quite simple. They discuss distillation processes in the article, but totally fail to mention that half the beverages that they sampled aren't distilled, and aren't spirits. They'd get laughed at by colleagues if they put a compounded Gin like Five O'Clock Gin as the #2 Gin in a tasting of easy to find premium distilled gins like Boodles and Plymouth.

 

It's the same story. Compounded Absinthe needs to be separated from Distilled Absinthe. They are two totally different animals, IMHO.

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I think the only answer is to make WS into a political absinthe organization! Seriously... we need to seriously find a way to push through some sort of legal definition ASAP. LTV is here to stay, and if we thought Czechsinthe was a headache, LTV is going to be hell. I've seen in it so many bars/restaurants/liquour stores and people don't know any better at all. It's becoming trendy, and once something is trendy the truth doesn't matter.

 

Others said it before me, but it's all about the money. They openly admitted to not making absinthe. They said old style absinthe isn't marketable to today's palate, but tha'ts not true at all. Not even remotely. They banked in on the absinthe "name" and "mystique" and created a sub-part coctail mixer. They even say they put little anise in, which is the main ingredient of absinthe!!! But I bet you they'll tout how it has "real wormwood", you know, "the good stuff"!

 

It touts itself as authentic french absinthe, but then the distiller says he intentionally made it as far removed from traditional french absinthe as he possible could? Who his he to say what the modern palate wants?

 

How do we approach getting a definition laid out? That's the only way this psychotic nightmare will ever end!!!

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It touts itself as authentic french absinthe, but then the distiller says he intentionally made it as far removed from traditional french absinthe as he possible could?

 

Respectfully, he's not a distiller, and he doesn't claim he is one. He calls himself the "owner" of LTV.

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Wow!

 

Just more of the usual drivel from the NYT.

 

The Wessinger comments?... It's like the verbal equivalent of being water boarded! I'd say "buy a vowel", but I think he already bought them all. Maybe buy an editor! If one has a sound and salient point, it just should not take that much text to make it.

 

False facts, repetitiveness, misdirection, reinvention, comparison with other substandard products, backhanded criticism of the cognoscenti, and specious argument doesn't make something into something else that it is not.

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They'd get laughed at by colleagues if they put a compounded Gin like Five O'Clock Gin as the #2 Gin in a tasting of easy to find premium distilled gins like Boodles and Plymouth.

 

It's the same story. Compounded Absinthe needs to be separated from Distilled Absinthe. They are two totally different animals, IMHO.

 

Bingo.

 

On a separate note, I'd be curious to know what the other 10 absinthe brands sampled but not ranked by Asimov and his team of "experts" were. I don't see mention of them in the article or on his blog...

 

 

EDIT: On a closer read, it looks like two of the brands sampled that did not make the NYT's Top 10 were Absente and LTV. That still leaves eight others a mystery.

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A good question, AiO. By not providing a comprehensive list, we have no clue what was available.

 

But this still raises an issue for us as the WS: If the NYT prints an article about absinthe, then the educated American world suddenly takes note, and we're going to have to be ready to fight the good fight. Kübler, the NYT's #1, isn't a bad product. VP, a favorite of mine, made the top 10, as did Jade N-O, La Clandestine, and Obsello. So that means that even in their (highly deficient) top 10, there are legitimate starting points for us to build on top of.

 

We need to use this opportunity to evangelize, not just rant against. Take the five legitimate very-good-to-excellent brands that the NYT has brought to the public's attention, and run with them! All of these brands have WS user ratings of 3.6+, making them quite reasonable beachheads from which to form our attack on the palates of America.

 

Let us rally!

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I think the article does deserve an official response from WS. Brian? Gwydion? Who has this one?

After speaking with several members of the board and producers as well, I think we are all in agreement that some sort of response to the misinformation is needed and will be issued.

 

However, in the meantime, we highly encourage people to respond to the comments on that site's comments section. Keep two things in mind:

 

1) Keep it civil and professional. That's the only way your comments will be taken seriously.

2) Keep it factual. Don't try to inflate a position by making statements that can later come back to haunt you and us at the WS.

 

Here are some specific points that maybe should be expanded upon or discussed in the comment section:

 

1. The product is described as traditional, genuine and authentic. - To be completely frank (without trying to be confrontational or insulting) LTV has very little in common with any traditional recipe I've ever examined over the past 15 years. To me, it's a twist, or a morphing of an aperitif like Fernet Branca more than an absinthe. It honestly has more in common with products like Hills.

 

2. The internet community viewed this post as just another addition to the blog spamming that was done a few months ago. I understand that's been taken care of now, but wounds are still fresh in that fracas.

 

3. The high proof limited their appeal. Retailers in the 21st century are very reluctant to sell products over 100 proof. - None of the retailers I've spoken with have has this issue and several people have already emailed me saying that this seems to be almost a 'blowoff' answer about proof.

 

4. They often required the ritual of dilution and sweetening which is a wonderful experience initially but becomes impractical in sustained usage. - Many absinthes don't require sweetening. It's not any more impractical to add water to absinthe than to assemble ingredients for a cocktail. Also, most bars can use simple syrup as opposed to sugar cubes to assemble a traditional absinthe glass, so they don't need to worry about spoons, cubes, time, etc.

 

5. The high bitterness levels of traditional absinthes were found to be unpleasant to many modern day consumers. It's not really true that traditional absinthe is highly bitter. It isn't. The only absinthes that were highly bitter were the ones that came out of Eastern Europe during the 1990s. As well all know, these brands also bore nothing in common with authentic absinthe. They were very bitter because of the use of maceration of AA or from the use of oils and compounds instead of distillation.

 

6. Perhaps most important, the traditional absinthe formulas often mixed poorly in cocktails beyond small dashes and doses. Not true. See the WS cocktail recipe database for examples.

 

7. There were some references and comparisons to your other products such as Sparxx (Sparks? sp?). One even went so far as paste a passage from Wiki:

"Created by San Francisco-based beverage marketing firm McKenzie River Corporation, early marketing relied on word of mouth primed by giving away large quantities of the beverage. Its critics dislike the high acidity, sweetness, and blatantly artificial flavor. Ironically, fans like the beverage for the same reasons, although the caffeine and high alcohol content, as well as the herbal components, also play a factor. Sparks also has a tendency to change the color of the tongue and teeth temporarily, after consumption of several of these beverages due to FD&C Yellow No.5. In some regions this discoloration is referred to as "Sparks Mouth". The drink caught on within the American hipster community, which has been known for its ironic glorification of several other cheap, low-grade alcoholic beverages.[2]"

 

8. We lowered the anise levels so as to not be too bitter. - I think this passage might have been a mistype? Anise doesn't contribute to bitterness.

 

9. we added to the color for visual appeal versus the more dishwater character of traditional absinthe louche. - A well crafted absinthe that is louched has a wonderful, opalescent milkiness. Nothing in common with dishwater. Again, this seems more like they are comparing their product to Czech absinthes like La Boheme or Absinth Original. This type of statement also contradicts the statement that LTV praises other brands.

 

10. And many mixologists are largely at a loss as to how to incorporate absinthe into cocktails beyond small dashes. - Based on the experiences I've seen from other absintheurs and also from my own recon at cocktail bars, I am in total disagreement with this statement. In fact, this recipe just came to me today:

Ben recently created his signature Brazilian Sangria featuring Lucid Absinthe, the first genuine absinthe to be legally available in the U.S. after 95 years of prohibition. The Brazilian Sangria muddles a variety of crisp fruits alongside Lucid, shaken and poured into a wine glass with a drizzle of red wine. Though you might be surprised to find an absinthe in sangria, Lucid (and by consquence, other traditional absinthes) is actually an extremely versatile spirit and since its recipe is truly authentic in every detail, its sugars add balance and a familiar sense of warmth to this refreshing cocktail.

 

11. We are number one in the BevMo chain. - I can only hazard a guess, but I think this might be because the BevMo employees are all pushing LTV as the most authentic absinthe that they carry. Look around the WS forums and you'll see dozens of anecdotes that seem to support my supposition.

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Don't know if this is the "major development" to which Brian mysteriously alludes, but an interesting new face just popped up in the Newcomer Introduction forum.

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Don't know if this is the "major development" to which Brian mysteriously alludes, but an interesting new face just popped up in the Newcomer Introduction forum.

That's part of it. ;)

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11. We are number one in the BevMo chain. - I can only hazard a guess, but I think this might be because the BevMo employees are all pushing LTV as the most authentic absinthe that they carry. Look around the WS forums and you'll see dozens of anecdotes that seem to support my supposition.

Exactly! When I went into BevMo to compare the brands available, the sales gal proudly turns me around to another case specifically showcasing LTV, telling me that this was THE best absinthe they carried, barr none. I explained to her that many of those who know and love absinthe would adamantly disagree with that statement.

 

yep, pushin'

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It touts itself as authentic french absinthe, but then the distiller says he intentionally made it as far removed from traditional french absinthe as he possible could?

 

Respectfully, he's not a distiller, and he doesn't claim he is one. He calls himself the "owner" of LTV.

 

 

You know what? No difference IMO. He's their brainchild, so he's responsible!

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Someone I know sent me a link to the article with the message "I think we should try all of them." But didn't put their name and it's from an e-mail address I don't recognize. I think the sender was a friend who attends the pottery studio I go to, and have shared Obsello and Kübler with. ;)

 

I replied, with my thoughts about how I would have arranged the list, but that e-mail address is possessed by some fricken mailer demon.

 

Oh well.

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