Choosing Your First Absinthe – Caveat Emptor!
Probably the most frequently asked question by newcomers is “What should I buy for my first absinthe?”
If you’re new to absinthe, it’s hard to know where to start. With hundreds of inferior and spurious absinthes using clever marketing, extravagant claims, and alluring labels, the better brands are often overlooked.
Because some marketers exploit the public’s lack of familiarity with authentic absinthe, there’s sometimes not much of a price difference between many of the better absinthes and the more substandard brands. In fact, some of the poorest quality faux absinthes are the most costly!
Some retailers rely on the ignorance of the consumer and their sheer excitement at the prospect of actually purchasing absinthe.
What’s In A Name?
French, Swiss, Spanish, German, Czech, “Absinthe,” “Absinth,” “Absenta,” “absinto”?
A few things have changed since the 1990s in regard to pre-judging an absinthe by its provenance and the maker’s choice of spelling. On the outside of it, it seems like such a thing would never have been a good idea, but sad to say, from the late 1990’s up until the late 2000s, it was actually a fairly reliable indicator. It’s common to avoid Eastern European products in favor of French, Swiss and Spanish products because the former areas had simply not produced any authentic or worthwhile absinthes. The general rule of thumb was that if it’s spelled “Absinth” on the label, it’s best avoided altogether.
It was only a matter of time before some manufacturers began to respond to the increasingly well-informed absinthe market, and some sincere producers arose in these countries. After all, that’s one of the reasons the Wormwood Society exists.
It is debatable whether or not the majority of “Czech style” absinths actually qualify as authentic absinthe. For complete information on why we don’t recommend most Czech-style products, go here.
Green or White?
Often, people who are coming to absinthe for the first time are surprised to find that there are clear, or “blanche” absinthes and prefer to start with the historic and romantically-appealing green, or “verte” absinthes. However, white absinthes were popular in the pre-ban era as well, although not as common as green. Don’t underestimate blanches, they are more than simply uncolored absinthe and can be even more complex and flavorful in their own right; they often have many more herbal ingredients that the vertes don’t have. The now-legendary Swiss “la bleue” is merely a clandestine-produced Swiss bootleg blanche, and a number of previously illegal la bleues are now on the open market legally.
What to choose?
When it comes down to it, you just have to jump in and buy one. While tastes vary considerably, and there are some strong differences of opinion surrounding different absinthes. Compared to other alcoholic beverages, there’s not a huge assortment of premium absinthes available, so new arrivals of decent quality are met with great enthusiasm.
Our Absinthe Reviews section contains reviews and scores of most of the absinthes available and is a reliable indicator of the quality and popularity of the most commonly available brands.
Note that nowhere in the scoring is there a mention of thujone content. That’s because thujone is irrelevant to the quality of an absinthe and plays no more part in making a purchasing decision than caffeine content does in purchasing coffee.