You weren’t alone in not liking the stuff when it arrived stateside in 2007. But thanks to an army of innovative mixologists, the potent Swiss-born elixir is suddenly deliciously drinkable and undergoing a second revival. Here’s why it’s time to reengage the Green Fairy.
When absinthe returned with great fanfare in 2007 (Hooray! A new liquor!) from its near-century ban in the U.S., both sides of the bar wrestled with the so-called Green Fairy—and lost.
Its aggressive anise-fueled flavor (think black jelly beans steeped in lighter fluid) spooked leagues of imbibers and confounded not a few bartenders. But in the last six years, there have been several seismic shifts in the absinthe world.
First, unlike back in 2007, higher-quality, small-batch, artisanal absinthe labels are now available.
Second, your palate is no longer an absinthe virgin. You may still grimace at a neat sip of the stuff—and that’s O.K.—but at least you know what you’re in for.
Third, and most importantly, many mixologists never gave up on their new toy, despite its challenging and complex characteristics. They kept tinkering away on their long wooden labs, and have created some scrumptious concoctions. “There aren’t many surprises left with most spirits,” says Chris Hannah, mixologist at Arnaud’s in New Orleans. “But I think we’re just beginning to uncover absinthe’s potential.”
Hannah likes to convert naysayers by topping classic cocktails, such as the Sazerac or the Suisse, with an absinthe frappe, or he’ll serve up a simple Death in the Afternoon—a mash-up of absinthe and Champagne, that was created by Ernest Hemingway, who, in a not-so-subtle form of self-promotion, named the apéritif after his book of the same title.
Naren Young, from AvroKO Hospitality Group, delves deep into unexplored territory with the Smoke Signal, a sweet, savory combination of absinthe, gin and smoked rosemary syrup, garnished with a flaming rosemary sprig. Young coaxes the flames higher with an absinthe-filled atomizer. “It looks cool,” he says, “but it triggers an olfactory response that heightens the flavor.”
Still, Maxwell Britten, of Brooklyn’s Maison Premiere, says once you choose to explore absinthe, and acquire a greater appreciation of its subtleties, you’ll inevitably realize one of its best permutations is still the classic sugar-drip drink (see right).
“It may take you another five years to work up to it,” says Britten, “but what a delicious and rewarding journey.”
Where they do Absinthe right:
Arnaud’s, New Orleans
Maison Premiere, Brooklyn, NY
Saxon + Parole, Manhattan, NY
Clyde Common, Portland, OR
The Savoy, Chicago
Eastern Standard, Boston