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A Lopsided Pair

One of our co-conspirators at brought back a cache of ‘less’ commercial absinthes, in that they are not brands you typically find turning up on the international market.

So while you are not going to find them in Australia, it is never a bad thing to increase ones awareness to what is out there on the broader international market, just in case one should find oneself physically in the right place to try the local artisan creations.

L’en Joleuse 72% alc/vol

Looking all “Olde Worldly” with vintage sepia presentation, this first number was a glum olive colour that was not overly inspiring. To top it off it was a hyssop bomb, as opposed to the anise bomb’s usually dropped on the exploratory connoisseur.

It was also quick off the mark to louche, just to reinforce the lack of subtlety. Probably most disappointing, there was agreement this absinthe seemed to be all middle, but no tops and tails.While there was some nice tobacco aromas that bestowed a token level of complexity, it was definitely an absinthe for drinking about, but not for thinking about.

La Berthe De Joux. 56% alc/vol

Lower in alcohol and with higher expectations, this little number is out of the stables of the Emile Pernot Distillery, so we expect more than a completely unknown.

Pronounced peridot green, we feel things are off to a good start.  This absinthe was considerably more inviting to the nose – and while chocolate and coffee aromas wafted out of the bottle, it was the almond biscotti notes that really caught my attention.

Beautiful layers falling like sediment during the louche, a dance of relative densities and tantalising trails, visually it was just right.

Once to the taste, we couldn’t help but thinking there was some sort of wine-spirit funk which might have otherwise left us dispirited after such an excellent opening.

I was nearly going to conclude the real depth of this absinthe seemed to be missing, but then menthol and hidden back notes of flavour crept through with patience.Leather, but more like a suede boot than a Chesterfield. Youthful? Maybe.

This set is a good example that sometimes you need to take the good with the disappointing – but hopefully never the downright waste of time.

Posted by Jonathan on Oct 29th 2013 | Filed in Absinthe brands,Absinthe Reviews,Distilleries,Food,News,Reviews | Comments (0)

A Cheeky Absinthe or Three @ Absinthesalon – Libertine Amer

So the next absinthe I need to tell you about, Libertine Amer 68, is certainly a talking point.

A product of the Paul Devoille Distillery and from their website they state:

Libertine is based on the traditional recipe of our distillery dating from the turn of the last century. Its color is 100% natural and the plants used include absinthe (wormwood) itself, green aniseed, star aniseed, etc.

Each of the ingredients is individually steeped and then individually distilled. The resulting mix of distillation leads to a second steeping with plants to produce its distinctive green color.

While this is a product with some tradition and history, there has been debate over the decade amongst connoisseurs as to whether it is a “true absinthe” because it is based on the blending of individual distilled macerates.  (As an aside, this is how the eyebrow raising Moulin Rooz from Australia is made, and probably highlights the risk of this method in that the wormwood bitterness can be too overpowering).

That debate aside, it is something of an absinthe that has polarised folk, probably of more genteel tongues.

Taking a deep breath – wow, something wild on heat. Musk. Sweat. A boudoir after an summer’s afternoon orgy.   This will produce a strong reaction in some folk.  It will intrigue others.

Amber Yellow in the glass. Autumn leaves.

Slowly we dilute with sugar. Pour some sugar on me indeed – it remains defiantly hot, sticky & sweet. Nothing tempers the hormonal surge emanating from within. It louches to a shade of a sepia photograph capturing another time and place.

As I consume I am repeatedly assaulted with herb bombs, sweet & savoury, a tasty bitterness thrusting between the anethole like a black keyed pentatonic scale.  And then came a climatic chalky minerality, perhaps amongst the strongest I have experienced in an absinthe.

This absinthe does not pretend to be subtle. She isn’t there to seduce you, to beguile you with faint promises of mystical Elysian pleasures.  She is brutally physical. She is going to use her teeth and her claws to make it happen.

I hope you are up to it.

Posted by Jonathan on Dec 2nd 2012 | Filed in Absinthe Reviews,Culture,Distilleries,Food,News,Reviews,Uncategorized | Comments (0)

A Cheeky Absinthe Or Three @ Absinthesalon Part 1: Duplais Balance

It has been too long between drinks in terms of popping into Absinthesalon in Sydney. Thus taking considered steps to be booked on the last flight out that evening left more than enough room to ensure an evening of conviviality could be spent in that splendid establishment.

But with what to break the drought? If there are at least a couple of drinks on the cards, best try something to wet the whistle with a gentle blow. And Duplais Balance at 60% alc/vol in its retro-label offering seemed to be the friendliest way to start the session.

This vert Swiss absinthe from Matter-Luginbühl Distillery, is most floral and simply delightful on the nose, a clear natural vibrant green pooled at the bottom of the glass. Much more than just a whistle wetter. Perhaps having more a potential to pickle the piccolo.

Setting the dripper going over the sugar, the louche happened a lot sooner than I had expected (but maybe this was because I was lost in good conversation), albeit graduated from bottom to top as the relative liquid densities swirled and interplayed into equilibrium.

The final translucency is consistent, but not thick, a feature that seemed to be reflected on the tongue. The finish is orderly, but not lengthy. More skim milk and not adhering greatly to my mucosal linings.

Make no mistake, it is an absinthe that hits all the right notes on the musical score: low register wormwood bitterness, arpeggiated potassium-chalky minerality that pops in and out, high accents of mint, fennel, anise and coriander played legato.

But the performance is perhaps not a Mozart, maybe more a Salieri. More than competent, excellent performer and faultless technicality.

But it didn’t induce a standing ovation from me.

The night is young, and there is more absinthe to come.

Posted by Jonathan on Sep 2nd 2012 | Filed in Absinthe brands,Absinthe Reviews,Bars,Culture,Distilleries,Food,News,Reviews | Comments (0)

The Historical Maze of Australian Absinthe Prohibition

The Team were recently contacted by a legend from the Australian wine industry, Peter Wall AM, a former Wine & Vineyard Director of the famed Yalumba winery.  Peter was able to provide some additional history into the machinations behind the legal status of Wormwood (Artemisia absinthium) in the old versions Australian New Zealand Food Code.

In the versions of the Code from the mid 1980’s onwards, Wormwood was a controlled –  rather than a prohibited – herb and controlled by thujone content.  How it came to this status is a key part of Peters tale.

You may be interested to know how the lifting of the Australian ban on the use of wormwood was initiated.

30 years ago I was deeply involved in the manufacture of Martini & Rossi (M&R) Vermouth here in Australia for the great vermouth maker in Turin. At this time there was a general ban on the use of wormwood in alcoholic beverages in the English speaking world, although its use in many European countries had gradually relaxed from the 1920’s.

I was also a member (later chair) of the wine industry’s Technical Committee.

With the help of the late, but legendary, Dr. Giorgio Rampone (the then M&R Technical director) we began a campaign here in Australia to rationalise the regulations for use in wine of GRAS (Generally Recognised As Safe) botanicals, among them Artemisia absinthium. I was also involved in the technical negotiations for the EU Australian Bilateral Wine Agreement and served as an Australian delegate to the Office International de la Vigne et du Vin in Paris. These positions allowed me to pursue the opening-up of these ‘strange’ bans on many fronts. Gradually the opposition relaxed and finally we came to the present more rational regulation of all the botanicals which contain alkaloids, not only in wine, but alcoholic beverages generally. I’m not claiming a unique place in the history of this rationalisation, however, I do recall I was a very lone voice when I first raised the issue in the late 1970’s. Whenever I now have a sip of absinthe in Australia, I recall my early efforts with added pleasure.

Peter has kindly provided correspondence from the period to government, arguing how Italian wine law dictated that, by definition, Vermouth must contain wormwood, and argued for a position of international harmonisation on managing the risk rather than arbitrary prohibition.

These were much the same arguments we made (or rather re-made taking into account Peter’s precedent) when FSANZ sought to later prohibit wormwood a second time in later amendments to the Code in 2000-2002.

You will notice dear Absintheur, I make reference to a potential second prohibition of absinthe in Australia – and Peter’s historical recollection confirming an existing prohibition during the 1970-1980’s (and prior) during his period of lobbying.  This is seemingly at odds with a belief we previously held, and have documented in Wikipedia, that absinthe as an alcoholic drink was never specifically prohibited in Australia, only the import of ‘absinthe essence’ based on the legislative orders of the early 20th century. We were wrong.

New documentary evidence has emerged that confirms Australia did indeed specifically prohibit Absinthe, that led to the necessity of Peter Walls’ original efforts to lift the ban on the use of wormwood and will be the subject of a follow up article.

Posted by Jonathan on Dec 26th 2010 | Filed in Culture,Food,History,Interviews,News,People,Regulations | Comments (0)

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