I'm usually pretty good about being detail oriented. However, I've been meaning to post for well over a month that I was treated over the summer to a wonderful seminar run by the Hawthorn Beverage Group, led by Josh Durr and AT Howe at Citizen Public House. The importer Lyons Brown of Altamar was there too and of course, the ever-present John Nugent was pouring some terrific cocktails- maybe he and the topic had me hallucinate and forget- Kubler Absinthe.
It has a remarkable reputation, many mistaken identities, one of which I just jokingly mentioned. Kubler, founded in 1863, is the only one that can claim authentic recipe and continuous operation in the birthplace of the spirit- Val-de-Travers, Switzerland. Painstakingly made in a unique micro-climate bordering France, with herbs grand wormwood, anise, hyssop, lemon balm, star anise, fennel, mint, among others- the original formula. No sugar or artificial color added, bottled at 106 proof, it's powerful but not nearly as mind altering as mistaken historical facts would dictate. Although only relatively recently did a direct descendant of J. Fritz Kubler, Yves (fifth generation), effectively lobby to lift the ban here in the states. Misinformation, temperance movement, myths and smear campaigns virtually eliminated the product for a century, but it's back and ready again for cocktails.
First, with huge credit and thanks to Josh form Hawthorn Beverage, a little timeline history.
AD- Pliny The Elder mentions that Roman Chariot race winners are given wine steeped in wormwood as a reminder that victory is bittersweet.
Hippocrates recommends wormwood for a number of ailments.
1769- Val-de-Travers, Switzerland a consortium led by Mere Henriod comes up with possibly the original recipe for "bon extract d' absinthe."
1769- Pierre Ordinaire makes a medicinal extract of wormwood "elixir d'absinthe" at 136 proof.
1798- The first commercial absinthe distillery in Couvet.
1805- Henri Louis Pernod needs to enlarge the facility and to avoid high Swiss taxes moves his operation to Pontarlier, France.
(The French style incorporated a maceration to achieve the green color)
1840s- French foreign legion soldiers use absinthe against malaria and other maladies.
1859- Edouard Manet's first original painting is "The Absinthe Drinker."
Late 1800s- Phylloxera wreaks havoc on wine production and with scarce availability, absinthe's popularity rises.
1871- 1914- Belle Epoque (beautiful era) Manet, Degas, Picasso, Tallouse-Lautrec often include absinthe in their work.
1905- Moral panic against absinthe starts to rise, led in part by Jean Lanfray murdering his family in Switzerland after a drunken rage. Ironically police revealed he drank brandy, wine, and other hard liquors yet only two ounces of absinthe- which took the blame.
By 1915- Bad science and prohibitionists led the way for banning absinthe in much of Europe and the US. Thujone has been blamed for the psychedelic effects of absinthe, but wormwood contains such small quantities that this is unlikely. In fact, while dangerous in very large quantities, chemists have determined it's not a psychedelic at all.
2001- Swiss ban is lifted and Yves Kubler revives the brand.
2007- US finally lifts the ban, it is approved safe and the label is accepted with the only stipulation that the word absinthe cannot be larger than the brand name. "Absinthe is in my blood and genes. No compromises are made regarding the quality and integrity of Kubler an authentic Swiss absinthe" -Yves Kubler.
Traditionally one would consume absinthe 3 to 5 parts water to one part absinthe, place a perferated spoon with a sugar cube on a glass and drip water over it. The water transforms the absinthe from clear to opaque in a process called "The Louche." Even if you don't think you love the licorice aspect of the spirit, try a few dashes in your next rum cocktail (you'll find it in a ton of great tiki drinks- think Don the Beachcomber). Harry Craddock got it from Spain in the 1930s, and it appears in many of his original Savoy recipes.
During the tasting, I particularly enjoyed a Strawberry Frappe, with Kubler, Luxardo Maraschino, diced strawberries, Angostura bitters, simple syrup and mint. Not overly sweet as you might imagine, the herbs in the absinthe perfectly balanced the tart-sweet strawberry and simple. Luxardo with the Kubler gives a wonderful viscous texture, and bitters always help bring the whole thing together. Delicious.
John Nugent poured The Improved Boulevardier, which was indeed! Bulleit Bourbon, Campari, Cocchi Torino vermouth, Kubler, Luxardo Maraschino, Angostura. Noticing a trend here? Use a dasher or olive oil pourer, include 1-2-3 proportions of Kubler Absinthe, Angostura bitters, Luxardo Marashchino. I'm telling you- use some in your favorite cocktails, you'll be a believer.
Oh, by the way, in regard to this post, at least my tardiness wasn't like the sad absence of absinthe for a hundred years. Now we can all taste a piece of history.
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