I would absolutely swear that I was drinking a top echelon pre-ban (particularly Pernod Fils 1914 "very green" to be precise) if I were blindfolded.
Gorgeous coppery/peachy feuille mort neat, which magically evolves into a creamy green with hints of brown and white after louching.
Said louche is very thick and creamy, unlike its more delicate counterparts among Stefano's other creations. The mouthfeel is, likewise, velvety and rich.
The perfuminess is there, but instead of a Mediterranean type, it is right out of the Belle Epoque, and wrapped in that classic pre-ban Rolls Royce leather.
This absinthe is absolutely seamless in its aroma and flavor, yet, at the same time, one can pick out a voluptuously fruity Florence fennel, candied anise, fragrant, baby powdery hyssop, and a particularly juicy wormwood in the remarkably lengthy finish.
There is also a peppery aspect to the mid-flavor, that reminds me of a cross between Pernod Fils "very green", and the more spicy Berger with a wonderful citric quality (more fruit-juicy than most), probably contributed by the Moldavian melissa.
Having enjoyed repeat tastings, I find myself in agreement with Brian regarding the astringent finish, but being a fan of Calvados, and, more precisely, Gale's Prize Old Ale, I find this characteristic in L'Ancienne to be bracing and inviting, rather than detrimental.*
*Having tried a few glasses of the latest (2011) version, I can say that the astringent aspect has been toned down, and the finish is far more rounded, spicy, and smooth. At this point, I feel perfectly justified in agreeing with Steve Williams, and awarding L'Ancienne a perfect score. Or rather, I would, if the star ratings could be edited.
This was an extremely limited commercial offering (only 60 of 80 bottles were up for sale), and for those who missed out, I'd recommend keeping an eye out for a hopeful reprise from Stefano, and the Zufanek distillery next year, providing the harvest is agreeable.
The Czech Republic is now the home of my absolute favorite absinthe...oh the wondrous irony!!!
Appearance: L'Ancienne is a clear and dark topaz. Natural and clear with a bit of dead leaf darkness to the color.
Louche: The louche starts with a bang and ends up being a perfect translucence. This is a creamy but not opaque louche. Spot on here.
Aroma: This one smells almost lighter in anise and heavy on wormwood and coriander. The sweet and floral smell smooths the aroma out and balances the spicy notes.
Flavor: The texture is smooth and creamy with a surprising amount of anise up front along with the expected wormwood. There are velvety orange-citrus notes and just a hint of that spicy zing as well. This is a very balanced absinthe that screams complexity. The wormwood definitely comes out at a higher dilution.
Finish: The spicy notes pop out in the finish along with a rise in the anise flavor and a receding floral fade. A pleasing amount of bitterness shows up as well. Magnificent.
Overall: This is probably the smoothest commercial offering I've had the pleasure of tasting so far. The flavor balance and complex finish help this absinthe stand out as a winner. This comes close to a vintage absinthe but it is still missing something that happens when a bottle has being laying around for decades. Overall L'Ancienne is a must try in my book.
Appearance: Very golden-butterscotch topaz. Where it's natural, it's obviously un-green by choice, to mimic vintage fuille morte qualities.
Louche: Practically insta-louches. It goes from nothing to a quick explosion of wildly thick clouds; fully watered finally arriving at (what I think) is the perfect louched thickness.
Aroma: Fairly strong wormwood and alcohol (but not what I would call "heat" or consider to be a bad thing), sweetly spiced and fragrant, smooth and velvety.
Flavor: Extraordinarily tart and peppery, cool and smooth. Nothing is specifically too noisy or forthcoming...wonderful balance of a great herb bill. Some clear oakiness, which I love.
Finish: Creamy, velvety, slightly sour and tingley, with receding waves of spice.
Overall: I was hesitant to buy some of this latest batch because I remember trying some of the last and wasn't super excited about it. I'm pleased I tried it again. This is everything I consider a "top-shelf" absinthe to be: painstakingly crafted, unique-yet-traditional, and delicious.
Before louche: Rating the color gave me a bit of a hard time, but only because the system is really set up to score traditional greens and whites. But, as I understand it, this absinthe is completely naturally colored. It's a beautiful amber, bordering on that feulle morte we love so much about century old absinthes. It's perfectly clear, and free of any sediment. Taking all of that into consideration, I'm giving it a perfect score for replicating a pristine pre-ban look.
After louche: Perfect. Maintains the look of the dead leaf color while adding hints of gold and brown.
Comes along at just the right time. Starts building nicely around 1:1 and layers around 2:1. By 3:1, it's fully louched and beautiful. Opaque, sure, but as noted above there are hints of gold and brown, with the overall feulle morte still being the dominant color. Wisps of olive toward the top, which has more to do with light than it does the absinthe.
Comparing this to an authentic pre-ban absinthe is a double-edged sword, but this is an attempt to recreate a pre-ban style, so here we go. While Stefano has managed to capture essences of the correct aromas, there is just no getting around the fact that this absinthe is young. This bottle was a distiller's proof of the commercial release, so it has the benefit of a little age, but nowhere near 100 years. As such, there is a little heat on the nose from the alcohol, which distracts from the brilliant stuff. Talking of which, the best part about the aroma is that luxurious old leather. Slightly powdery, which is something I love. Nicely perfumed. Not a standard profile, in terms of a really forward anise, but this isn't a standard absinthe. The aroma highlights the wormwood more prominently, and the anise takes a back seat to the leather. Rather earthy and calm, with nothing screaming for attention. If it weren't for the heat, I would rate this a perfect score.
I can taste every many of the similarities that Stefano tried to recreate from pre-ban absinthes. But the first thing I taste is a bit of astringency (not spiciness), which isn't necessarily pleasant. I wanted to make sure it wasn't the alcohol I was tasting, so I added a little more water, no more than 4:1. However, the slight astringency was still there. It doesn't taste like process to me, and certainly not tails. It's definitely something in the herb bill. Sort of a menthol flavor, but not minty. Setting that aside, there is a smoothness and creaminess that is very, very enjoyable with the rest of the flavors. One of the things that pre-ban absinthe has going for it is a hundred years of melding flavors. Some of those flavors surely can't be recreated, as such, but the creator is in the ballpark with all of them. There is also a really good balance of sweet and bitter, vegetal/herbal and floral. I taste a smokiness that is rather enjoyable, which is reminiscent of toasted oak. One could easily imagine this absinthe as being aged in enormous casks.
Absolutely the right amount of numbing, for the right amount of time. It doesn't linger unnecessarily. It's actually replaced by a creamy and delicious mouthfeel. Exhaling brings back many of the best aspects of this absinthe.
Oddly enough, the only thing this pre-ban clone really needs is...more age! Nearly perfect.
Absinthe pours a velvety light golden cognac with very tiny greenish reflections. The closest would be Clandestine verte Suisse. Perfect.
Swirling, subtle louche. At 1:1, there is still an unlouched layer. And creamy and opaque in the vein of the majority of pre-bans.
Smells woody and camphorous, quite similar to Edouard from 1910. Alcohol is perceptible in the nose, though. The scent is very homogenous, but still a tad young.
It is Bitter and very camphorous. Too camphorus at the edges, not heavy from anethole
Taste is expressed by camphor, slight melissa, the finish is penetrating, the spiciness very, very subtle. It does not taste 100% pre-ban, but tastes like a well rested absinthe, definitely older than most what's on the market right now.
A great product for the connoisseurs, if the camphorous note may get too prominent causing inbalance.