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JakeBarnes

Alcohol Content and quality

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Ok, I'm sure this must have come up here before I've tried a number of searches and can't find anything, so here goes:

 

I've seen it written in several places that a higher alcohol content is one indicator of quality (though certainly not the only one) and I'm wondering if one of the resident experts on here might be able to explain to me why, everything else being equal, a 68 or 72 abv absinthe would be better than a 56 abv etc? I know there are some great absinthes around that lower level (BdJ comes to mind) and some mediocre 72s so I know alcohol is definitely not the only thing. But if someone has the time to explain, or speculate on the link between quality and alcohol content I'd greatly appreciate it.

 

Cheers

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You're correct that higher proof doen't confer quality, but it does help to preserve quality. ;)

 

The high ethanol keeps many of the essential oils, and chlorophyll responsible for the color, from degrading more quickly. At lower proofs, chlorophyll doesn't age well at all, and in fact it doesn't extract well in the first place.

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Thanks very much Gwydion, that makes sense.Can I also ask you, as a distiller, if there is something special about at 68 abv level?Or has it just sprung up as the "standard" or "classic" level for an absinthe because its the ABV the Pernod Fils recipe used?

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65%, 68% and 72% are all pretty standard for absinthe superieure. Eduard Pernod was also bottled at 65% and Duval at 72%. So no, there's nothing unique to the 68% number, it works well for absinthe just like 65 and 72.

 

Besides being really useful to preserve quality, as Gwydion mentioned, a higher proof was (mind you WAS, as we know this is not true anymore) a sign that the absinthe had been made with quality in mind, not trying to minimize the costs.

 

There are several things that distilleries would do to cut the costs, and depending on what you would have all the different quality levels. Alcohol is expensive so lowering the proof would immediately lower the cost of production.

Herbs are also expensive so from the super high quality, selected, etc herbs that the best brands would use you could go down to cheaper, lower quality herbs (for instance herbs like hyssop you can usually get a pretty good idea about the quality just looking at it and noticing if it's mostly flowers and top leaves, and a nice green color for the best quality, vs mostly stems and leaves with almost no flowers and a yellowish color for low quality), or they would get the coloration herbs from the best brands and use them a second or third time for the cheaper brands (kind of like with olive oil where you have extra virgin for the first press, then virgin, then olive oil, etc), all the way down to the use of chemicals to fake the color and the louche.

 

Back then, when the general public knew what absinthe is supposed to taste like, just like now we all know what beer or wine tastes like, it didn't make any sense to keep a higher proof for an otherwise cheaply made absinthe. They would have higher costs because of the alcohol, and people would certainly not pay more if the absinthe was cheaply made, so the distillery would actually lose money.

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