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The Wormwood Society

American absinthe fans discover local “green fairy”

American absinthe fans discover local “green fairy”

Fri Aug 1, 2008 12:29pm EDT





PORTLAND, Oregon (Reuters Life!) - The tiny Portland distillery
Integrity Spirits has put its sought-after craft vodka and gin on the
back burner to brew up something in high demand these days: absinthe.

Other distillers are also scrambling to fill orders as sales across
the U.S. surge for the long-banned spirit affectionately called "the
green fairy."

"There are about six or seven brands of absinthe available now, and
I expect 20 to 25 by year-end," said Brian Robinson, a member of the
Wormwood Society, a group of absinthe aficionados.

Austrian distillery Fischer announced in July it would soon begin
exporting to the United States an absinthe called Mata Hari. Also last
month, Grande Absente from France hit U.S. shelves.

Sale of absinthe was prohibited for nearly 100 years in the United
States and some European countries, damned for its now-debunked
hallucinogenic and addictive properties.

Associated with famous artists such as Vincent Van Gogh, Edgar Allen
Poe and Edgar Degas, absinthe's identification with the Bohemian
artistic set in the late 19th and early 20th centuries lent an aura of
romance.

The bans on absinthe have been slowly lifted around the world and
the United States approved the first absinthe for sale last year.

Part of absinthe's allure is the ritual serving. Historically
absinthe was served in a distinctively-shaped glass, with sugar cube on
a slotted spoon over the top of the glass. Ice water was poured over
the cube.

The water hitting the absinthe makes the delicate green go cloudy, a phenomenon known as louche.

Distillers speak lovingly of the challenge of crafting absinthe with
its complex mix of herbs including grande wormwood, hyssop, fennel and
anise.

"It is layered, complex and beautiful when it is at its best," said
Lance Winters, master distiller at St. George Spirits, Alameda,
California. "I consider it the peak of the distiller's art form."

Enthusiasts say the traditional sugar cube is no longer necessary
because improved distilling has eliminated absinthe's bitterness.

IN WELL-STOCKED BAR

The green fairy packs a punch. Absinthe is generally at least 120
proof, meaning it is 60 percent or more alcohol, compared with about 40
percent for vodka, for example. The licorice-tasting spirit is most
often a pretty lime green, but also comes clear and in several colors.

And the romance of absinthe doesn't come cheaply. The cost of a bottle of absinthe ranges from about $50 to over $100.

Now, it is showing up in cocktails at trendy bars across the
country. Daniel Shoemaker, owner and mixologist at Portland's stylish
Teardrop Lounge, is creating new absinthe cocktails like the Ex Nihilo,
which features gin and vermouth. He is also reinventing some of the
absinthe classic cocktails such as the Monkey Gland and the Earthquake.

"It is such a hot item right now," said Rich Phillips of small-batch
distiller Integrity, which now has two of its three stills devoted to
its Trillium absinthe.

St. George, the first U.S. distiller to sell absinthe, produces
6,000 bottles per batch and is already on it's seventh batch of its
Absinthe Verte since the December roll-out. After the first batch went
on sale, ""we had a line of people out into the parking lot," Winters
said.

Imports are also surging. Worldwide sales of Swiss-made Kubler
Absinthe have quadrupled in the past six months, driven by a surge in
demand from U.S. consumers, said Joyce Sevilla, a U.S. spokeswoman for
Kubler.

No one is predicting that absinthe will ever outsell vodka or other
mainstream spirits. But most experts think it will have a permanent
place in a well-stocked bar.

"I love absinthe," said Shoemaker, the mixologist. "I really like the flavor in a well-mixed cocktail."

 

(Editing by Mary Milliken and Patricia Reaney)