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My Absinthe Experiences
Quest for Absinthe
Sometime in either December of 2000, or perhaps late winter /
early spring of 2001, a friend mentioned absinthe in passing.
Intrigued, I extracted as much information from him as I could...
which actually wasn't that much. So, we formed this grand plan to
learn as much as we could, and perhaps even get hold of
I started searching the web for as much absinthe
info as I could. I found many, many pages, mostly linking to each
other, stealing each other's artwork... not much original
content. The first site I found that actually sells absinthe was
Sebor, and so I set my goal: Import a bottle of Sebor! It should be noted that these days (2008 and beyond) the amount of absinthe information on the 'net has exploded, my site & my endeavours are hardly unique any more.
February 25th, 2001 - I confirmed that absinthe is in fact legal in
Canada, much to my (and our) joy! I also suggested for the first
time the idea of an "absinthe tasting"... I had no idea how that
idea would mushroom...
March 2001 - My friend and I had several conversations about
this absinthe tasting... it slowly evolved into a full-fledged
April 23rd, 2001 - I sent a Request for Quotation (sounds
rather formal, doesn't it?) to Betina Elixirs... and received a
quick and friendly response. I was just testing the waters at this
point, so I didn't place an order right away - I was still figuring
out what all this was about.
May 1st, 2001 - a disaster, or so it at first appeared.
Official Canadian government documents state that the
importation of alcohol (which makes up the majority of absinthe)
is prohibited. So I made some calls, to the Canada Revenue Agency, and to the BC Liquor Board, and discovered that it
is in fact legal - it's just Canada Post that prohibits it, so if
I wish to import, I must do so by courier (the CRA website was
not at all clear about this).
May 14th, 2001 - I ordered my first two bottles of absinthe, Mari
Mayans and Deva! Anticipation ran wild... they
arrived unmolested about two weeks later. There was no apparent
leakage, but I could catch a whiff of anise from one of the
bottles... very appetising, I almost opened the bottle then and
May 15th, 2001 - My friend and I discussed possible dates and
guests for "l'heure verte", as we were then calling it - we
realised that this was going to be big, and started planning
May 24th, 2001 - I ordered a copy of Absinthe: History in a
Bottle. Not only was it a great source of information (I read
it from cover to cover in one day), it also had some great artwork in
May 29th, 2001 - I contacted Betina Elixirs again, and after some
interesting and informative e-mails and finally a phone call, I
placed an order for both the La Fée and the Suisse La Bleue.
They arrived the next week in perfect order.
June 9th, 2001 - I purchased a bottle of Hill's from a BC Liquor
Store. Of course, I made a point of asking them if they were
planning on stocking any other brands any time soon... and got a
rather vague answer. Ah, whaddya expect from a government
monopoly? (It should be noted that the sale of liquor in BC is no longer monopolized by the government, there are many businesses in the market now. However, even 7 years later, Hill's is all that's available)
June 12th, 2001 - I finally ordered the Sebor from their online
store, it arrived a week later. The first one to discover, the
last to acquire. And strangely enough, this was the only bottle
to have any sort of customs bother (some extra paperwork to fill
out, and an invoice from the courier for "handling fees" arrived
a month later, at least it wasn't that much).
June 20th, 2001 - The Mari Mayans and the Suisse La Bleue
The six brands of absinthe that I'd decided to sample had
all arrived, so a friend, my sister, and myself, planned an evening
of it. After a very tasty meal (and importantly a light one), we
dimmed the lights, put on some appropriate ambient music, and
began the ritual...
This was the first bottle to be opened, and I was, frankly, a
little nervous - I had been anticipating this moment for months.
At first I had trouble getting the bottle to pour... this was the first
time I'd encountered such an elaborate pouring mechanism, but after a
minute or so I figured it out (hint: let gravity do its work, and don't
try and force anything). The absinthe was a pale green in the glass and
smelled strongly of anise, but not unpleasantly so. There were hints of
other herbal aromas that I couldn't quite pin down. Upon adding ice
water it louched quite well turning a milky yellow-green. My first sip
was a surprise; although smelling strongly of anise, the taste was
moderate and didn't hit you in the face like some distilled beverages;
if you enjoy liquorice candy you'd enjoy this. Along with the obvious
anise flavour, I could pick up mint, perhaps real liquorice, hints of
something spicy, and a hint of wormwood itself. Altogether the flavours
were fairly balanced, with only a trace of bitterness. After several
relaxed sips, I began to feel the warming sensation starting in my
stomach and spreading through my limbs that I associate with alcohol,
but strangely I did not feel intoxicated. It's quite an experience to
be feeling half of the effects of alcohol, but to retain an alert mind,
with heightened senses (in my case it was my hearing that I first
noticed was more vivid). It's been recommended that if you are new to
absinthe, you try this one first; now I know why.
Note that although one is feeling alert, perhaps even stimulated, that does not mean that one isn't intoxicated - the GABA-agonist (sedative) effects of alcohol are still there, even though masked by the GABA-antagonist (stimulant) effects of thujone. One could call absinthe a "natural speed-ball"... Do Not Drive or Operate Dangerous Machinery while under the influence - a rough rule is to allow 90 minutes of sobering-up time for every ounce (28mL) of absinthe you consume (this is assuming 70% alcohol by volume and 10ppm thujone). But don't rely on this, everyone's body reacts differently - best to spend the night, wherever you happen to be drinking absinthe.
Suisse La Bleue #1
Produced (illicitly) by farmers in the Val-de-Travers in Switzerland,
there are probably hundreds of different varieties and qualities of
Suisse La Bleue, but you'll rarely see the real thing outside of
Switzerland. A few online vendors claim to sell absinthe made by these
farmers, but considering the difficulty of getting it out of the country
and the low profile these farmers try to keep, I have to wonder about
the authenticity and/or quality of the brands offered online. In any
case, the brand I'm reviewing here is available only from Betina's
Elixirs as she buys up this farmer's entire production. Betina's
Elixirs also offers varieties #2 and #3, which I will review at a later
The bottle was both corked and capped; I was puzzled at first, until I
removed the cap and realized that the cork was seeping a tiny bit, and
the cap's liner was beginning to dissolve. I guess neither a cap nor
cork alone would have been enough. This absinthe was crystal clear (no
green colour), and poured smoothly. Adding ice water produced a
beautiful louche, a milky-white with a tinge of purple (possibly
lighting had an effect here), the overall effect was reminiscent of the
underside of a cumulus cloud on an otherwise fine day. The aroma was
mainly of anise, and again the first sip surprised me: it was smooth!
The anise flavour was surprisingly subdued considering how nicely it
louched, but there weren't too many other herbal notes in this one
either. Wormwood was definitely present, but even so it was quite
mellow. My guess is this absinthe had been aged for a while
before being sold, there were no sharp edges to the taste at all. A
very pleasant and refreshing drink. My friend who was sampling it with
me mentioned that he could drink it like water, it was so good... (which
made me shudder, thinking of the cost) By the time I had finished the
glass I was feeling somewhat heavy in my limbs, but had no trouble
balancing when I stood up, and again my mind was very aware of my
surroundings, and my senses of hearing, touch, and taste were all
heightened. The effect lasted for about half an hour after my second
glass, at which point the thujone probably wore off because I suddenly
felt very relaxed and sleepy, until the alchohol wore off (although I
could be misinterpreting which effect is caused by which substance).
Cost aside, this is the best one I've tried to date, and I think
everyone should treat themselves to a bottle at least once (but not all
June 29th, 2001 - The Hill's and the Deva
My friend and I decided to try the next two brands on a Friday
evening... again, setting the mood with lighting and ambient
music added to the overall effect. While we drank the Hill's,
though, we were playing a "computer demo" called Ambience, which
even when sober has the ability to put me in a trance-like
First off, one look at the bottle suggested that something wasn't
right... it's a bright blue, very unnatural. The odour was similar to
the others, although somewhat less powerful, and for some reason the
alcohol smell was much sharper (careless distillation?). My friend who was tasting this
with me decided to try a sip straight... I foolishly went along with
that... all I can say is if you find 40% vodka somewhat strong, don't
even think about trying a 70% liquor (the memory of that burning
sensation is still with me). Anyway, we both decided it would be best
to finish the drink the more traditional way, diluted with water.
However, being a Czech brand, we decided to have the sugar the Czech
way: granulated sugar in a regular spoon, soaked in a little absinthe,
set on fire, burned till the sugar caramelizes a bit, then
stirred into the
rest of the absinthe while pouring in some ice water. In our state of
mind (with some help from subdued lighting and an Aphex Twin CD), this
was the coolest part of the whole experience. However, there was zero
louche, even though the water was chilled to freezing. The first sip of
this concoction was disappointing, though; very weak flavours,
consisting totally of anise and spearmint (not my favourite mint)...
some people have called this brand mouthwash or Windex... it reminded
me vaguely of electric pre-shave lotion, both in colour and in smell.
It felt a bit like a chore to finish the glass, and afterwards there was
no heightened focus or sensation that I've come to associate with
absinthe, only the heaviness and fuzzy mind that you'd expect from a
Unlike the Mari Mayans, this bottle was straightforward to open ;-)
Colour was good, the aroma was enticing (licorice candy, anyone?), and
prepared in the French manner (absinthe spoon, French sugar, ice water,
no uncouth let's-burn-the-place-down ritual), the louche was excellent,
better than the Mari Mayans, probably equal to the Suisse La Bleue. Of
course, being coloured, the louche did have a green tinge to it (which
lends to the character), and I'm still fascinated by the actual louching
process itself... as you dribble in the water it remains clear, then
swirling density gradients appear, and then quite suddenly it goes
milky, which deepens as you add more water. A very satisfying sight.
The taste more than made up for the Hill's that we had tried earlier
that evening, it was quite smooth, very refreshing, with a broader
taste... Anise and fennel were present, but as usual I had trouble
distinguishing the other herbs, although peppermint was probably
present, along with a tangy herb I couldn't identify (almost citrus).
In my opinion better than the Mari Mayans, light years ahead of Hill's,
and not too far behind the holy grail, Suisse La Bleue. The aftereffect
was more in line with "proper" absinthe, the focus of mind, the
heightened senses... it even nullified the dull feeling that the Hill's
had produced ealier that evening... but as before, this only lasted for
about an hour, and then it all came crashing down and all I could think
of was sleep. Absinthe is a remarkable drink for counteracting the
effects of alcohol, but I wouldn't recommend drinking a few beers,
cider, Hill's, and then proper absinthe, in that order (as we did).
Once the thujone wears off all that alcohol comes back to haunt you...
One thing that I would like to try soon is to drink nothing but absinthe
for an evening, and see where the thujone without the additional alcohol
Note, a few years ago I did finally try that with Mari Mayans, a total of 6 ounces of absinthe over the course of about 6 hours. It was an interesting experience... I found that I very badly wanted to express myself artistically in some way, but lacked the discipline to do so. At first anyway. Most of the time I placate the muse by programming (in C mostly), that night it took me a few hours to realize that technology was a hinderance for that evening, best to excersize the writer in me, using old-fashioned pen & paper... I should also note however that I was somewhat out of sorts the next day, the malaise persisted into the afternoon, when it suddenly lifted. (whether this was due to the absinthe or to the depression that has been with me for over a decade, I can't rightly say)
July 6th, 2001 - The Sebor and the La Fée
The next Friday, my friend and I deemed it an appropriate time to
try the last two brands. I'm actually kind of glad that we did
it in this order...
Again with the bottle opening problems! It took me a minute or so to
figure out what needed to be cut in order to get the cap off... the
scary thing is that the cap itself doesn't screw on tightly, it slips
when you get to the bottom of the thread, so it's impossible to get a
solid seal. Might explain why there was noticable leakage in the
package when it arrived (about 10mL or so).
The aroma was unusual, almost earthy, with the usual anise, but also
other scents lurking around. At 55% this one was almost drinkable
straight, so I tried a sip as is. It's actually fairly pleasant, but
this one was the most bitter of the six (not that the other five were
all that bitter). I decided to finish the drink with some sugar and
water, as per the traditional ritual. This manufacturer recommends neat
over ice, and unlike Hill's, if you use sugar they do not recommend
caramelizing the sugar first before stirring it in. There was zero
louche at all when adding the water, even though the water was pretty
much at freezing point. Sebor has an unusual colour, bordering on
yellow-green, which suggests that it might be naturally coloured by
maceration, although it seems a bit dark for natural colour... its
colour remained pretty much the same as I diluted it with water. The
first sip was surprisingly free of anise, which although present, was
very subdued. Other herbs made up the majority of the flavour - it does
have a strong flavour, but it seems to span a large range, with anise
being a small part of the whole picture. Even diluted the bitter finish
was moderately strong, suggesting that wormwood plays a big part in
flavouring this brand (possibly through maceration instead of
distillation?). Mint, sweet basil, hyssop, lemon balm, and many others
also appeared to be present.
Altogether, not a bad entry, much better than Hill's... and I'd
hesitate to say that it's worse than the others, because it's so
different, it's difficult to compare. If we are assuming that it's
supposed to be a classic absinthe, then it falls short of the mark, but
if we instead assume that they are trying something new, branching out
in a new direction, then it's not a bad liqueur. I'd call it an
"absinthe-inspired" herbal liquer, and not an absinthe. The after
effect was not as strong as the other brands, but was noticeable
unlike Hill's, which is what I would expect considering the wormwood
Ladies and gentlemen, I do believe we've found the lost art of
absinthe! First off, the label had a very appropriate hypnotic eye
staring back at you, second, the liquid was a very dark green (probably
artificial, but it looked right). The aroma is hard to describe, strong
in anise, but there were other sweet-smelling herbs in there as well,
altogether a rather complex bouquet, very inviting... in the background
was a scent that brought up memories of some sort of candy that I might
have had as a child, perhaps barley sugar.
Upon adding the water (over French sugar on a La Fée spoon, of course!),
it louched beautifully, turning a light milky apple-green. The first
sip was definitely something... like the aroma, the flavour was
complex, dominated by anise, but with a healthy amount of other herbs
calling attention to themselves, the usual mint, hyssop, and other herbs
I don't know the names of, and possibly nutmeg? Like the other good
brands, the overall taste was quite refreshing, and deceptively easy to
drink (I suspect that a 700mL bottle could easily disappear in one
evening with two people working on it). However, the after effect was
not as strong as I was expecting, it was comparable to the Mari Mayans.
I found that I was "coming down" sooner than with the Deva or Suisse La
Bleue (of course nothing can touch the latter at 70ppm). I'm not sure
why I was expecting more seeing as how it's only 10ppm, I guess the
authentic flavour and aroma got me hyped up for something bigger. But
overall, very enjoyable, I can see why this is considered one of the
July 26th, 2001 - It's now official: invitations for "The Green
Hour" (as it is now called, due to a widespread ignorance of
Canada's other official language) were sent out.
July 31st, 2001 - Preparations for the "The Green Hour"