Absinthe’s history mirrors the way it’s meant to be prepared: a mix of the misunderstood and the legitimately unusual. For most of its existence, the spirit has been slandered, ostracized and, in rarer cases, revered. It’s been dragged across borders, masqueraded as other liquors, aspersed with hallucination claims and — since its ban was lifted in America in 2007 — the spirit has been secretly embracing it all.
“There’s a tradition. There’s a lure to the preparation of absinthe”, says Will Elliot, a bartender at Brooklyn’s Maison Premiere, an oyster and cocktail den with the allure of a New Orleans haunt. Absinthe, at 68 percent alcohol, is a compacted spirit. Once diluted with water, the essential oils and flavors loosen to reveal the drink’s nuances. Preparing an absinthe drink involves combining botanicals, flavors and aromatic elements, Elliot says. “It’s not the sort of spirit that you just toss back.” As for lighting it on fire, which often is brought up in discussions on how absinthe’s served, “You wouldn’t…that’s really damaging the alcohol”, Elliot says. He got behind the bar to debunk some myths and walk us through two traditional absinthe drinks — a drip and a frappe — and a new twist on an old cocktail.
Household items — slotted spoons, forks — can be used to make absinthe drinks. You don’t need specialized barware. But absinthe utensils are affordable and available at stores like Cocktail Kingdom, which Elliot suggests is a leader in absinthe paraphernalia.
“I prefer it with lighter fare, so earlier in the meal. I don’t see it as an after dinner drink. I see some classic absinthe cocktails as after-dinner drinks, but as far as drinking, you know, drip or frappe, I would say less so. Yeah, I would say earlier in the meal, or by itself.
“People get really caring, happy, or crazed [about the absinthe they drink], and I think it’s a good thing. I think it’s good to think broadly about that kind of thing. Also, most of all, absinthe by itself, you know, it’s delicious. It warrants that much attention.”
– Will Elliot
There’s a wide variety of absinthe cocktails. Many mixed drinks also call for a splash of absinthe. It doesn’t necessarily have to be the star of the show, says Elliot. “But a touch of it in the cocktail can be really good.” There’s also “a classic cocktail called Death in the Afternoon, which is just a jigger of absinthe in a glass of Champagne.” Elliot even suggests that absinthe was originally dashed into Manhattans in Manhattan. He settled on making us a Sazerac, which was easy to prepare and delicious.
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