I have always been intrigued by absinthe as there’s a certain mystique equated with the spirit. A strange aphrodisiac from a foreign land, it lures people in with rumors of romantic liaisons and bizarre hallucinations. And the century long ban only helped exaggerate the legend that has become the ‘Green Fairy.’
Having heard many varied opinions and experiences, mostly from my drunkard cohorts whose analysis changes based on how much they’ve had to drink, the only way I would truly know what absinthe was about was to try some for myself. So I looked into it. To my surprise there was a wide variety available to the US. I decided to go straight to the source and get a bottle from the elixir’s country of origin: Switzerland. I chose Suisse Verte Clandestine from Alandia Absinthe Shop.
When it arrived I eagerly pulled the bottle form the box and gazed at it in awe. My first bottle of absinthe. It was surprised at how innocuous looking it was. It looked more like a bottle of wine than a portal to the other side. Perhaps it was a clever disguise. After all, I heard the rumors, the tales. I saw Bram Stoker’s Dracula and the atmospheric seduction of Mina Murry by way of absinthe. Was I going to become incapacitated or see little green things flying around? Was I going to fall in love with the first handsome foreigner I saw? I quickly called in the Russian to join me on this journey into the unknown.
Having learned my lesson with the Tres Agaves Agave Nectar, I read the instructions on the back of the bottle. The recommendation was one part absinthe to three parts water over a sugar cube, the traditional ritual. So that’s what we did. I poured the water into the glass and then the absinthe over the sugar cube. Then we stared at it. The absinthe, a pale green layer, sat on a thick cloudy layer which sat on top of the water. Interesting effect, but we didn’t know what to do next. Stir? Drink? It was new to both of us so the Russian did some quick research online.
The Russian came bounding out of her room and announced that we had done it backwards. The water was supposed to be poured over the sugar, dissolving it, and then stirred. So much for reading directions. However, our faux pas allowed us to set the sugar on fire, as depicted in pictures she had found online. So we did that, which was very cool. But the flame caramelized the sugar so when we dropped it into the concoction it sank instead of dissolved.
So, we mashed up our hardened sugar cubes and stirred, ready to take our first ever sips of absinthe. I had asked around and was originally advised to drink it quickly, like a shot, because of the taste. It seemed like sound advice based on the nose of it, a strong medicinal, black licorice scent. But then I remembered that I don’t usually listen to my drinking friends and opted for a sip. Yes, it was medicinal and black licorice tasting but not nearly as severe as we had anticipated. It was an invigorating boost to my tongue that left the tip slightly numb. It was a nice beginning. Our second sips went down easier as the flavor seemed to mellow out, maybe because of the temporary numbing effect or perhaps because the cynicism was removed once we actually tasted it for ourselves.
Then the Russian remembered reading something about using cold water, which we did not use. Again, so much for reading directions. We added an ice cube to our glasses and found that temperature, in fact, made a big difference. At room temperature we found that our absinthe had a languorous warming effect with a slightly heavier texture, like that of brandy. Cold, it offered an invigorating sensation that sailed over our taste buds. It was spectacular and it was delicious.
While the taste was surprisingly good, that’s not really the reason why we were drinking it. We wanted the ‘absinthe effect.’ We knew at the very least we would catch a decent buzz, it was 144 proof, after all. But if a buzz was all we were looking for we could have simply raided the Russian’s vodka supply. We decided to stop trying to find the green fairy and instead let the green fairy find us. The Russian and I sat back and waited for whatever effect it was supposed to create to introduce itself.
Reclining on the balcony, half way into my absinthe I began to feel…something creep in. I looked over and the Russian was smiling. She felt it to. It was what I can only describe as a vivid clarity gradually wash over me. Our senses seemed heightened, fully awake yet we were completely serene. Personally, my vision was sharper, tighter and light seemed to move differently. The Russian, however, swore the crossing horizontal and vertical bars around her courtyard were pulsing. Then again, her vision without glasses is 80/200. You decide. But in the absence of the dancing green fairies, the Russian and I enjoyed our absinthe quite thoroughly.
The Russian and I concluded that Suisse Verte Clandestine awarded us with not only an enjoyable taste but a curious experience as well which would have been lost if we had chugged it like my cronies had recommended. We feel that if consumed too quickly the mildly altered state would be overpowered by the effects of the high alcohol content. Sipping it leisurely allows both the alcohol and the herbal essences to enter your system together at a complimentary pace. Granted, Suisse Verte Clandestine was our first experience but I don’t think I could have chosen a better absinthe. The bar has been set.
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