Absinthe or Bust

One of my New Year’s Resolutions was to learn to appreciate absinthe. I have never liked the flavor of anise or licorice. But as my interest in re-creating classic cocktail recipes has grown, the presence of anise-flavored ingredients has kept me from experiencing the Monkey Gland, the Morning Glory Cocktail, the Atty, as well as countless others. Until now.

When picking cocktails, I wanted to highlight those that revolve around the flavor of absinthe. Many classic drink recipes call for small portions of absinthe, a dash here, a rinsed glass there, to wonderful effect. But to really force my palate to adapt, I felt the need to overwhelm my senses, to beat them into submission. I have hated black jellybeans for as long as I could remember and I figured that a firm hand was the only way to acquire a taste for anise.
The first recipe on my list was the Absinthe Cocktail. For this I turned to David Wondrich’s Imbibe,

Absinthe Cocktail

(Use small bar-glass)

Take 2 dashes [1/2 tsp] of anisette
1 dash of Angostura Bitters
1 Pony-glass [1 oz.] of Absinthe

Pour about one wine-glass [2 oz.] of water into a tumbler in a small stream from the ice pitcher, or preferably from an absinthe glass. Shake up very thoroughly with ice, and strain into a claret glass.

With the first sip, my mouth was coated in licorice-y wormwood. Under any other circumstance, I would have stopped there happy with my level of experimentation. But I persevered. As I approached the midpoint, I couldn't feel my tongue. And though the drink was becoming more pleasant, the absinthe's high proof was probably the reason. As I emptied the glass, I swear I could taste the bitters, a sign that my mouth was becoming accustomed to the absinthe.

The next week I decided on an absinthe-based classic that had been adapted in a curious way by Marleigh at Sloshed! After reading her post on the Absinthe Suissesse, I knew that recipe was in my future. How many milk-based recipes are out there flying around using soy milk as a substitute?

Absinthe Suissesse

1½ oz absinthe (to taste)
½ oz orgeat
1 dash orange flower water
2 oz rice or soy milk
½ cup crushed or cubed ice

Shake vigorously with crushed ice or blend for fifteen seconds with cubed ice. Serve in an old-fashioned glass.

I used the blender for this drink and found it to be very foamy, though a bit runnier than I though it would be. It was indeed a refreshing creamy milkshake. Though I still couldn't taste any of the other elements, I could smell the orange flower water. In the end I didn’t mind drinking it. Ah, progress.

I was lucky to get tickets to the Washington State Bartender's Guild's absinthe forum. Gwydion Stone and Paul Clarke each gave a presentation about absinthe, the history of its production and the history of its use in American cocktails. During the presentations, samples of absinthe cocktails were handed out, including Death in the Afternoon, the Monkey Gland, and Absinthe Frappes. Many absinthe representatives were in attendance with their absinthe fountains in tow, ready to answer questions and offer samples. I tasted five different absinthes that day and am still amazed at the variety of textures and flavors that are available.

At the absinthe forum, Paul Clarke spoke about several classic cocktails, and one in particular caught my attention, the Morning Glory Cocktail. This recipe is from David Wondrich's Imbibe,

Morning Glory Cocktail

(use medium bar-glass.)

Take 3 dashes [1 tsp] of gum syrup
2 dashes [1/2 tsp] of curacoa
2 dashes of Boker’s bitters [alas, I used Angostura]
1 dash of absinthe
1 pony [1 oz] of brandy
1 pony [1 oz] of whiskey [I used Rittenhouse]
1 piece of lemon peel, twisted to express the oil
2 small pieces of ice

Stir thoroughly and remove the ice. Fill the glass with Seltzer water or plain soda [per Wondrich's note, I used champagne], and stir with a teaspoon having a little sugar in it.

The combination of rye and absinthe made me think of a Sazerac, but it was the additional optional ingredient, the champagne, that really propelled me to make it. What a good choice it turned out to be! Indeed reminiscent of the Sazerac, the absinthe was just strong enough to take center stage, but didn't mask the other flavors. The champagne balanced out the sweetness of the Cointreau and the syrup and worked well with the drink's other flavors. It was delicious. The licorice flavor was no longer an unwanted addition, but instead completed my enjoyment. I would definitely make this drink again.

After a month dedicated to acquiring a taste for absinthe, I will never pass over a recipe just because it contains absinthe, Strega, anisette, or any of the other anise-flavored liquors and spirits. In fact, I might even choose it.

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