When I think of my childhood summers in the Pacific Northwest, I remember never-ending days outside, playing make-believe for hours on end, building forts in the woods (this is before we thought we’d get murdered there), scream-running through sprinklers, and roller skating. Lots and lots of roller skating.
And those days always involved foraging and scarfing down fresh fruit. Much of it found on our daily adventures. Blackberries on the side of the road, too tart apples plucked from trees prematurely, big fat blueberries confiscated from a neighbor’s backyard, and buckets of Rainier cherries that we risked life and limb for on our treacherous climbs up thick, scraggly branches. I have such delicious memories, and a nice collection of scars that remind me of a time I was equal parts brave, crazy and a little dumb with youth.
It’s no wonder a couple of PNW natives have come up with a way to take advantage of this area’s abundant supply of gorgeous fruit and…infuse it in BOOZE.
Wild Roots Distillery has a pretty extensive line of infused vodkas, all using ingredients found in Oregon’s Willamette Valley – an area mostly known for producing excellent Pinot Noir wine. Turns out that rich soil and amiable climate is also pretty ideal for growing fruit.
I recently got to try two of these beauties from their collection – The Northwest Pear Vodka and The Marionberry Vodka. Soon after, I found out that the two I picked to sample were both winners at the recent Seattle International Spirits Awards just this past month. Like the best blackberry bushes in the neighborhood back in the day, I still know how to pick ’em!
I found The Marionberry Infused Vodka initially pretty rich and sweet but not in a treacly sense. Both bottles I tried had the aroma of real, fresh fruit. And on the palate this was the case as well. Wild Roots’ aim is to be an antidote to the fake flavored vodkas glutting the market. Keeping it all natural has been an important part of their story. And the resulting product reflects that. Apparently 2 pounds of berries go into each bottle!
Because of the sweetness level and the tart berry finish, this is a fun one to mix with and not a lot of ingredients are necessary for a well-balanced cocktail. I found this worked beautifully as a simple fizz type drink. I could also see this in place of Cassis in a Kir Royale type sparkler…
2 oz Wild Roots Marionberry Infused Vodka
1/2 oz Lemon Juice
1/4 oz Simple Syrup
1-2 oz Club Soda
Shake all ingredients except club soda over ice until well chilled. Strain into an ice-filled rocks glass. Top with soda and stir. Garnish with berries.
Of the two Wild Roots Vodkas that I tried, I think the Pear Infused Vodka might have been my favorite. The aroma is bright and fresh and decidedly PEAR. And it is very much that on the palate, with a slight floral quality. This could also be lovely in a fall cocktail with a little baking spices to warm it up.
Since I’ve had summer on the mind, I made something light and refreshing, however. Again, because of the slight sweetness to this spirit, it doesn’t need the addition of much sugar.
I initially made a Pear Martini and loved the simplicity of that drink. But I came to the conclusion that a Vesper – James Bond’s second most favorite cocktail – would kick this up a notch. The addition of an aromatic gin and herbaceous Cocchi Americano actually brought out the complex pear flavors in this so much more. Bring on the Northwest summers!
Northwest Pear Vesper
1 1/2 oz Wild Roots Pear Infused Vodka
1/2 oz Gin
1 oz Cocchi Americano
Add all ingredients to an ice-filled mixing glass and stir until diluted. Strain into a chilled cocktail glass. Garnish with pear slices.
Baileys, the makers of the most popular Irish cream liqueur in the world, has gone vegan! With the recent launch of Almande, a light but creamy liqueur with an almond milk base, Baileys has created a spirit that is dairy and gluten-free, and after working to remove beeswax from the original recipe, certified vegan.
To celebrate this new release, we had a little soiree here in Los Angeles by doing what Angelenos do best – workout, hang with beautiful celebrities, throw back some boozy smoothies and Instagram the h*ck out of it!
Our new bestie, Tia Mowry, who btw looks casually stunning in workout clothes, because of course she does, hosted at Tracy Anderson Method‘s gorgeous Brentwood Studio.
Guests participated in a crazy hard looking class – I safely observed from a distance 😉 and then they were treated to light, post workout cocktails created by yours truly!
Since Baileys Almande goes really well with coconut water and a little spice, I thought for one of the cocktails a horchata riff would be perfect for the occasion. The Horchata Almande is a combo of rum, cinnamon spice, coconut water and Almande. Light and refreshing and so easy to make.
1.5 oz Baileys Almande
1 oz Spiced Rum
1 oz Vita Coco Coconut Water
2 oz Cinnamon Spiced Tea (sweetened with tsp sugar and cooled)
Shake all ingredients over ice until nice and frothy. Pour into an ice-filled highball and garnish with a dash of cinnamon.
Baileys discovered that Almande also works really well in smoothies, and as far as post-workout treats go, that was a no brainer. The Spring Fling Smoothie combines strawberries, banana, almond milk and coconut water with creamy Almande, for a low alcohol blended cocktail.
Spring Fling Smoothie – makes 2 drinks
1/2 cup Almond Milk
1/2 cup Coconut Water
2 oz Baileys Almande
1 oz Agave
6-8 Frozen Strawberries
1 cup ice
pinch of salt
In a blender, combine all the ingredients and blend until smooth. Pour contents into a chilled glass.
All photos taken by photographer Eugene Lee c/o Baileys
I can’t believe it’s been over a month since I visited the gorgeous Maker’s Mark distillery in Loretto, Kentucky. But if you’ve been following me on social media, you know that it’s been a bonkers few months of travel and imbibing across the country and continents! But it was this Kentucky visit that kicked it all off. And it definitely left its…mark. (see what I did there?)
It was a complete whirlwind but such an incredible experience. As a fan of American history and American whiskey, it was an important one. You see, this was my first time at the historic Maker’s Mark distillery!
From everything I knew prior about the brand and the Samuels family, this visit did not disappoint.
The day that we flew into Louisville, we were treated to a fantastic dinner and tasting at Proof on Main with Bill Samuels Jr, son of Maker’s Mark founders Bill and Margie Samuels.
Listening to Bill’s stories about the origin of this now legendary bourbon was not only fascinating but totally stoked all of us for our visit to the distillery the next day.
For the day of our tour, we were met by Bill’s son and the distillery’s current chief operating officer, Rob Samuels. This is not unusual, however, as Rob is usually on the premises, greeting guests, giving tours and of course, pouring some of that famous whiskey.
Master Distiller, Greg Davis, joined Rob to lead the tour and show the inner workings of the facility.
The Maker’s Mark campus is designed as Margie Samuels envisioned, as a quaint Victorian village in a black and red motif, matching the brand’s colors and spirit.
They have even incorporated the famous bottle shape into the bright red window shutters!
Speaking of Margie, she is also credited for having given Maker’s Mark its name AND coming up with the idea to seal the bottle in red wax, now an iconic (and legally patented) symbol of the brand. Margie was a true pioneer in American bourbon and marketing!
Touring the facilities at Maker’s Mark is truly a lesson in American craftsmanship, precision, and consistency.
Their level of quality control is impressive.
Every step of the way, their operation was a tight ship.
For those that have visited Maker’s Mark, you know one of the greatest thrills is when you have the opportunity to hand dip your own bottles in that signature red wax!
But if you HAVE visited Maker’s Mark in the past, you may notice something a little different the next time you’re there – the addition of Star Hill Provisions, the distillery’s new fast-casual restaurant, located in the beautifully renovated Master Distiller’s House.
Star Hill Provisions was named after the original T.W. Samuels family farm and distillery, Star Hill Farm.
Leading this exciting culinary project is Chef Newman Miller, co-owner and executive chef of acclaimed Harrison-Smith House in Bardstown, Kentucky. Newman Miller has brought with him a devotion to the community – he grew up mere miles from the distillery – and the skill and experience to back up the elevated down home cuisine and seasonal cocktails.
The seasonally changing menu will offer meats and produce straight from the farms of Maker’s Mark employees whenever possible.
One of the most important aspects of this addition of Star Hill Provisions is their offering of cocktails, however. Until recently, distilleries weren’t allowed to sell cocktails under state law. But a change in legislation in 2016 changed all that. So now you can visit this National Historic Landmark, Maker’s Mark Distillery, have a delicious lunch AND fabulous craft cocktail to boot. What more could you ask for?!
I wanted to share my favorite cocktail from Star Hill Provisions created by Chef Newman Miller, called Family Meal. It’s a lovely mix of Maker’s Mark, cold brew and Mexican Coke. So good!
1 ½ parts Maker’s Mark® Bourbon
¼ part Cold Brew Coffee Concentrate (Chef Newman uses Harden coffee, which is house roasted 15 miles from restaurant)
Mexican Coke, as needed
Lemon Peel, for garnish
Build coffee and Maker’s Mark® Bourbon in a rocks or highball glass. Add ice and stir gently. Top with Mexican cola and finish with oil from a strip of lemon peel.
We all like rooting for the underdog. Being popular and a huge success and knocking it out of the park all the time can be sooooo boring. But there’s a reason some things are as successful as they are – donuts, Paris, roses, Beyonce, waterfalls….MARGARITAS! They’ve earned their rightful place in this popularity contest we call life. (BTW, did I just somehow outline the most perfect date weekend in that list of popular things or what? Also, am I basic?)
Soooo, margaritas are not the underdog of cocktails. But there’s a reason why every time those end of the year lists of ‘Most Popular Cocktails’ comes around, the margarita continues to rise to the top. Uh…THEY TASTE AMAZING.
And what’s better than a perfectly made margarita on a sunny afternoon? An entire pitcher full of them! To share with friends, of course! Sauza Signature Blue Silver Tequila, made with 100 percent blue weber agave, is perfect for these pitcher-style margaritas.
In case you didn’t know, Cinco de Mayo is like the Super Bowl of holidays for tequila. And the margarita is the star player. Or if you’re a weirdo drama geek like me, we can use an Oscars analogy instead. And margaritas win Best Picture….like every year. This year, I’ve gotten together with Sauza Tequila to celebrate a little early with some friends. It doesn’t take much to woo my friends. The promise of chips, guac and margs pretty much guarantees I even have friends.
Now, some of you margarita purists may take issue with this blended recipe that calls for canned limeade and beer. But the addition of Sauza Signature Blue Silver Tequila, crafted at the renowned Sauza Distillery in Jalisco, Mexico, has to count for something! I PROMISE that you can save up that side eye for something really worth throwing shade at and instead just get excited for your new favorite, and soon to be every one else’s favorite, sunnytimez beverage of choice. I, myself, admit had to come around…
I was asked to help make this at a party a few months back. I might have been a little snobby about it at first. But I did as I was told, like the kind of guest who has shown up earlier than expected because she got the time wrong and so she helps out in the only way she knows how…with booze. My friend kept referring to it as a Texas-style margarita recipe and that sounded about right. But after I tasted this dream concoction (again and again…and again), blown away by how well it worked, I finally recovered from the Texas sized hangover I subjected myself to, and I Googled “Texas-style margaritas” to get the whole story.
The internet revealed a mixed bag of things. While there are plenty of margarita recipes that involve limeade and beer out there, this wasn’t necessarily a version known in Texas. And none of the recipes were as simple and perfect as the one my friend gave me. So, I just replicated the recipe I made that night, put out some chips and salsa and invited some friends over to appreciate a little early Cinco de Mayo celebrating and decided to share this with all of you!
Blended Beer Margaritas – Pitcher serves 6-8
1 can frozen limeade – 12 oz
Use can to measure 12 oz Sauza Signature Blue Silver Tequila
1 bottle beer – light lager or pilsner
In a blender combine all ingredients and fill with ice. Blend on low until working up in speed, careful not to go too high because of the beer. Blend until smooth.
Disclosure: This post is sponsored by Sauza® Tequila
Sauza® Blue Tequila, 40% alc./vol. ©2017 Sauza Tequila Import Company, Chicago, IL”
The Last Word, like the Negroni is an equal parts cocktail, but with the added fourth ingredient being citrus, it is shaken, not stirred. Akin to the Negroni, this drink is also having a sort of renaissance with bartenders and home cocktail enthusiasts alike.
Supposedly born at the Detroit Athletic Club around 1916, the Last Word has become more of a modern classic. It went into relative obscurity until the recipe was dug up by Seattle bartender Murray Stenson in the early 2000s. He discovered it in Ted Saucier’s 1951 cocktail book “Bottoms Up!” (which credited the Detroit Athletic Club), and after adding it to the menu at the Zig Zag Café, word spread and a classic was reborn.
People love an equal parts cocktail. You don’t have to remember proportions; They’re brilliant! There was even an entire book devoted to these recipes, but they don’t always work. The balance has to be just right. And you’d think with such dominant spirits as gin, green Chartreuse and maraschino liqueur, that it would all be too much. But somehow that equal parts addition of fresh lime juice sucker punches the rest of those flavors into a bright and herbaceous delight.
I’ve noticed recently that this cocktail is also especially in the zeitgeist at the moment. We are currently in the midst of an international Instagram “event” wherein cocktail enthusiasts and brands and regular ol’ instagrammers are being called upon to create their own riff on this often riffed on cocktail and then post their version. I’ll actually be posting my variations (featured here) right after this post goes up!
I thought that playing with these recipes was a great opportunity for me to experiment with this lovely bottle of Sunday Gin from new San Diego distillery, You and Yours Distilling Co.
Distilled from grapes instead of the usual grain (wheat, barley, rye), the botanicals are softer with a hint more citrus than your typical American style gins. But I found this Sunday Gin was still able to hold up to the other powerhouse flavors in this cocktail. It worked especially well in the Fizz.
My first variation is close to the classic recipe. It was important to keep it equal parts, but I just wanted to sub out the maraschino liqueur for one of my favorite and most versatile liqueurs out there at the moment, Barrow’s Intense Ginger Liqueur. When working with green Chartreuse you need something that can match its intensity if you don’t want it to dominate. And Barrow’s is the perfect accomplice to this potent spirit.
Intense Last Word
3/4 Sunday Gin
3/4 Green Chartreuse
3/4 Barrow’s Intense Ginger Liqueur
3/4 Fresh Lime Juice
Shake all ingredients with ice until well chilled. Strain into a cooled coupe glass. Garnish with your favorite herb.
For the second variation, I knew that I wanted to make a fizz, still keeping it equal parts of the original ingredients but adding egg white and seltzer to see if that worked. Uh, it does. It SO works.
Refreshing and a little lighter than the classic version, this may very well be what I’ll be sipping this Sunday for Easter brunch. I’m sure you’ll have some extra eggs lying around, right?!
Last Word Fizz
3/4 Sunday Gin
3/4 Green Chartreuse
3/4 Maraschino Liqueur
3/4 Fresh Lime Juice
1 Egg White
In a cocktail shaker add gin, green Chartreuse, maraschino liqueur, egg white and lime juice and “dry” shake vigorously for about 20 seconds. Add ice and shake for another 20-30 seconds. Strain mixture into an ice-filled highball glass. Pour seltzer into shaker to loosen up remaining froth and then top the cocktail with that. Garnish with your favorite herb.
Game, set…SMASH! It’s official, Spring has sprung, and with it all of the fresh fruits and blossoms and herbs are bursting at the seams here in California. And my severe seasonal allergies to it all can prove it!
You know what I’m not allergic to? Sipping on delicious rum drinks whilst playing table tennis in the sunshine with some of my favorites. Oh, springtime…you just GET me. Diplomático Reserva Exclusiva Rum, a dark golden Venezuelan rum, happens to be one of these favorites. Not only is it fabulous on its own, it is surprisingly versatile in cocktails.
So I was thrilled when they contacted me for a challenge to create an original Diplomático cocktail using peak-season ingredients unique to Los Angeles. Strawberries are in season and are especially sweet right now, and basil also seems to be everywhere. I love the combo of strawberries and balsamic and thought a sweet reduction would work really nicely with the aged Diplomático. Here is the result of those springtime flavor inspirations: The Strawberry Basil Smash!
Strawberry Basil Smash
2 oz Diplomático Reserva Exclusiva
1/4 oz Lime Juice
1 tbsp Sugar
1/2 tsp Balsamic Reduction
2 Sprigs Basil
1 oz Seltzer
Garnish: Strawberry & Basil
In a mixing glass, muddle all ingredients except rum and seltzer. Add rum and shake with ice. Add a splash of seltzer and stir. Double strain into a highball glass filled with ice. Garnish with strawberry and basil sprigs.
When Kim Wiseley, Editor-in-Chief of Flutter Magazine reached out to me about featuring three spring-time cocktail creations for their Spring Issue, also their 2017 Astrology Edition, I was totally on board. Sparkly, floral, love-inspired cocktails? I can do that!
And when she mentioned that instead of a photoshoot to capture the drinks I created, she was working with an artist who would turn my cocktails into beautiful watercolor paintings…I knew this was the beginning of a lovely relationship!
Sara Fitz is the talented artist behind these watercolor creations, and the stunning brush lettering is the work of Nicole Miyuki. I couldn’t be more impressed with these ladies’ work. They’ve all turned out so beautifully! I cannot wait to frame these over my home bar!
While these recipes have all been featured on the Bit by a Fox blog, I encourage everyone to pick up a copy of this magazine, which is truly a piece of art, and see these beauties in person! The issue is on newsstands now, in Barnes & Noble and other major news retailers, but you can also order it online here. What a fun collab this has been!
All of the artwork featured here is copyrighted to the artists for Flutter Magazine.
Piña Coladas are one of those guilty pleasures that pretty much EVERYONE likes. Unless you are allergic to pineapples or coconut or fun, DO NOT TELL ME YOU DON’T LIKE A PIÑA COLADA. I’ll just end up calling you a lying liar. Because they are happy making. They are dessert with booze. They are vacation. They are worth every calorie. Seriously.
Created in San Juan, Puerto Rico in the early 1950s, their national drink since 1978, the traditional Piña Colada recipe called for white rum. But over the years, bartenders and home mixologists alike realized that aged, dark and spiced rums had the potential to add a depth of flavor…and next level yumminess!
With the recent release of Don Q’s Oak Barrel Spiced Rum, I thought it was a great opportunity to spice up one of my favorite blended drinks.
This is the first foray into the spiced category for the brand and they wanted to do it right by creating an elevated version of what currently dominates this segment in most bars and liquor stores at the moment. Don Q’s Oak Barrel Spiced Rum is a blend of Puerto Rican rums that have been aged for a minimum of three to six years and is slightly higher in alcohol, coming in at a healthy 90 proof – ideal for cocktails.
The Spicy Chai Piña Colada recipe came together once I tasted this rum on its own. The warm kitchen spices, most notably the clove and black peppercorn notes, reminded me of the spices in Masala Chai. A creamy coconut chai drink with BOOZE?! Uh…YEAH!
Because I wanted to make a chai spiced syrup, I decided NOT to use the traditional, already sweetened Coco Lopez Cream of Coconut, and opted to use the slightly lighter, unsweetened coconut milk in its place. It was just as creamy and lush but it also allowed for the rum and spices to truly shine.
Spicy Chai Piña Colada – makes 2 drinks
3 oz Coconut Milk
3 oz Don Q Oak Barrel Spiced Rum
5 oz Pineapple Juice
1 oz Chai Spiced Syrup*
1/4 cup Fresh Pineapple
Juice of 1 Lime
1 1/2 cups of ice
Garnish: pineapple wedge, rum soaked cherry, chai spices
Add all ingredients including ice to a blender and blend until frothy. Pour into well chilled glasses and garnish with pineapple, cherry and a pinch of spices.
Chai Spiced Syrup
1 cup water
1 cup sugar
4 Chai Spice teabags
Heat water in a saucepan until boiling. Remove from heat and add in tea bags. Infuse for about 5 minutes. Once the tea has fully steeped, remove the tea bags and return saucepan to stove to bring to a slow boil. Stir in the sugar until completely dissolved. Remove from heat. Let stand at room temperature until cool and then refrigerate. Will keep for 2-3 weeks.
Sponsored: This post was made possible by Don Q Rum and was fueled by Spicy Piña Coladas! All opinions are my own.
Ah, St. Patrick’s Day. That hallowed day of green beer, shamrock everything, and shots! shots! shots! I don’t know about you, but I’m just not up for that craziness anymore. I mean, some shades of green can be very flattering, and I can get down with a whisk(e)y shot on occasion – as long as it’s the good stuff! But I’m fairly certain that come tomorrow, I won’t be getting sloppy in a pub or playing green beer pong in honor of St. Paddy’s Day. Do you know what I will be indulging in? A wee bit of Irish Whiskey AND Irish Cream…in the form of Irish coffee cocktails. Because that’s what grown ups do on the Feast of Saint Patrick!
The traditional Irish Coffee is a very basic recipe – coffee, sugar, whiskey and heavy cream. But for some reason, it is difficult to ever get a very good one. Even in Ireland, Irish Coffees are served in nearly every pub, but the drink isn’t taken very seriously and that pub coffee has most likely been sitting on a burner for an entire day. It’s even purported that the drink was invented to mask the taste of bad coffee.
But with the cocktail renaissance came an appreciation for this cozy drink, and interpretations of it using the best ingredients. Strong, quality, fresh made coffee is key, as well as hand whipped cream, and an Irish whiskey that won’t overpower the rest of the flavors. For this, I chose to use a whiskey that I tried for the very first time just this past Monday, (it literally launched in the states last week) – a brand new expression from Bushmills Irish Whiskey, Bushmills Red Bush.
Bushmills, Ireland’s oldest distiller, makes very approachable whiskies. And this new expression is no exception. Created with the bourbon drinker in mind, Bushmills Red Bush is matured exclusively in American white oak bourbon barrels. While it has those familiar notes you might find in a bourbon, toasted oak and vanilla, it is subtle and balanced and decidedly Irish!
I found this to be a lovely addition to Irish Coffee. It had just enough punch to make it boozy but didn’t overpower the coffee at all.
1 cup freshly brewed hot coffee
1 tbsp sugar
1 1/2 oz Irish Whiskey
heavy cream, whipped
Pour hot coffee into a warmed mug until it is about 3/4 full. Add sugar and Irish whiskey, stir until blended. Gently top with the whipped heavy cream by pouring over back of spoon.
In much of the country, winter is not letting go and Irish Coffee is still very much in season. But if you’re in a warmer climate like Los Angeles for instance, (it was nearly 90 the other day!) you may want to opt for something with a little bit of a chill tomorrow. However, I can pretty much drink an Iced Irish Coffee in any season!
Kerrygold, a company you may be familiar with specializing in Irish Dairy Products, has now created their very own Kerrygold Irish Cream Liqueur. It is a blend of natural Irish cream, Belgium chocolate and oak-aged Irish whiskey.
Soon after launching, they won World’s Best Cream Liqueur at the 2016 World Drinks Awards, and you can see why. Rich and velvety, with a subtle hint of whiskey at the end, it is an ideal partner with a strong, cold brewed coffee in this Iced Irish Coffee.
Iced Irish Coffee
6 oz Cooled Strong Coffee (or cold brew)
2 oz Kerrygold Irish Cream
In an ice-filled shaker, add ingredients and shake until well chilled. Pour into a tall tumbler or jar with ice. Enjoy!
Let me be mad, then, by all means! Mad with the madness of Absinthe, the wildest, most luxurious madness in the world! Vive la folie! Vive l’amour! Vive l’animalisme! Vive le Diable!”
― Marie Corelli, Wormwood: A Drama of Paris
The Green Fairy, La Fée Verte, Absinthe – One of the most misunderstood elixirs ever created and consumed. Made all the more mysterious by a worldwide ban of the stuff for nearly 100 years. After the ban was finally lifted in the states ten years ago now, some myths are still perpetuated by a few brands capitalizing on its mystique.
Most likely, you’ve heard the dark stories…about how “real” absinthe will make you hallucinate, turn you violent and drive you mad if you have too much. Well known writers and artists such as Ernest Hemingway, James Joyce, Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, Pablo Picasso, Vincent van Gogh, Oscar Wilde, and Edgar Allan Poe were all said to have benefited creatively and yet suffered negatively from the effects of their consumption of absinthe. But what is the real story of absinthe? Can we get an authentic version in the states? And why was it banned for so long if it is truly harmless?
Absinthe, for those of you unfamiliar, is a highly alcoholic distilled spirit, (not a liqueur as it is often mistaken for, because it is not traditionally sweetened with added sugar) made with macerated herbs – primarily aniseed, sweet fennel and wormwood – the main flavor components in the spirit. The various botanicals is what also gives absinthe its famous natural green color, inspiring the nicknames “Green Fairy” and “Green Goddess”. At its height in popularity, towards the end of the 19th century, when the French were drinking up to 36 million litres of absinthe per year, the nearly 30,000 cafés in Paris were transformed every day at 5:00 p.m. into l’Heure Verte, the Green Hour.
Absinthe’s rise in popularity coincided with a rise in alcohol consumption in general. Cheap, poorly made “bathtub” versions were being produced, and alcohol-related injuries and crimes were being blamed on the popular spirit, leading the way to a prohibition of absinthe internationally. The temperance movement as well as the wine industry, threatened by the massive popularity of the drink, leveraged the moral panic against absinthe in Europe at the time, and pushed the idea that it was especially dangerous and led to violent behavior.
But is there any truth to the dangers, the highs, the hallucinogenic qualities that have been rumored and written about and spread throughout the centuries? The truth is, absinthe is indeed potent. It is not to be taken straight as it is so concentrated. It is traditionally bottled at a high alcohol by volume – usually 110-144 proof versus whiskey which is about 80 proof. This is because it is to be diluted with ice-cold water prior to being consumed.
Ted A. Breaux, a scientist, researcher and leading authority on absinthe, had a major role in overturning the ban in America ten years ago. Lucid Absinthe, his creation and the first absinthe in the U.S. market, is still considered one of the top brands in the world. According to Breaux, “pre-ban absinthes contained no hallucinogens, opiates or other psychoactive substances”. The only drug in absinthe is alcohol.
Thujone, a compound found in wormwood, is often referred to as the hallucinogenic component in “real” absinthe. But according to the experts and extensive studies, there just isn’t any truth to this. In extremely high doses, thujone is known to be a dangerous neurotoxin, but pre-ban absinthe and the nearly identical recipes made today have always only had trace amounts. The truth is, there may very well be more wormwood in the vermouth you’re having in your next martini than a glass of absinthe. Aside from being its hallmark ingredient, the name “vermouth” is in fact the French pronunciation of the German word Wermut, meaning…wormwood.
So, how come, even after ten years of it being legal in the states, there are still so many misconceptions about this botanical beverage? Perhaps we prefer holding onto these romantic notions of madness and drug-induced achievements from some of our most notable creative geniuses. It surely doesn’t help when certain brands market themselves in a way that takes advantage of their naughty past, advertising thujone or wormwood on their bottles in an inauthentic way.
That’s not to say we haven’t come a long ways since that 95 year ban. There are a lot of really wonderful brands that are making quality absinthe, each one, with their specific recipe, slightly different from the next. So, what brands should you be buying?
According to absinthe educator Kellfire Bray, seen here at the monthly Green Fairy Party produced by Don Spiro in NYC, here are his recommendations to get you started:
Meadow of Love Absinthe from Delaware Phoenix Distillery – American Hidden Gem
Made in the Catskills in upstate New York, Meadow of Love has a floral aroma and flavor interacting with the anise. This absinthe has a powerful louche of rolling, milky cloud banks, and it coats the tongue with flavor.
Lucid Absinthe Superieure – Traditional, Easy to Find
Lucid is the first genuine absinthe made with real Grande Wormwood to be legally available in the United States in over 95 years. Lucid is prepared in accordance with the same standards as pre-ban absinthes. It is historically accurate in EVERY detail.
“Vieux Pontarlier” Absinthe Francais Superieure – Mid-range, Workhorse
Very anise forward and fairly sweet, this absinthe is made in small batches using alambic stills that were specifically designed to make absinthe. Vieux Pontarlier Absinthe evolved from the research and experience of professional Absintheur Peter Schaf, using historic protocols, distilling techniques and equipment from the 19th Century.
Kubler Absinthe Superieure – Mid-range, Swiss style
Clear and colorless in the Swiss style. Along with Lucid, was crucial in petitioning the government to lift the absinthe ban. Anise and fennel dominate but get more complex post louche.
Jade 1901 Absinthe Superieure – Top Pick, Harder to Find
From Ted A. Breaux’s high-end absinthe line, Jade Liqueurs, this bottle was recreated as a tribute to a widely studied pre-ban absinthe, as it appeared circa 1901. A classic vintage-style absinthe, balanced and crisp, with a stimulating herbal aroma and a smooth, lingering aftertaste.
The preparation to drink absinthe may seem intimidating. Do you need the correct tools? Is there sugar AND fire involved? How much is the right amount? It is all pretty simple, really. In fact, according to Bray, you don’t even really need the sugar. You’ll just need to slowly dilute 1 part absinthe to 3-5 parts iced water from a specially made absinthe fountain or even by hand with a carafe. As the water dilutes the spirit, the botanical oils are released, herbal aromas “bloom” and the clear green liquid turns cloudy, a result that is called the “louche”.
The traditional French Method, however, does involve placing a sugar cube on top of a slotted spoon over a glass of absinthe and pouring iced water over the sugar in order to slowly dissolve it and mix with the absinthe. Since absinthe is not made with added sugar, some people prefer to sweeten it up this way. But according to nearly all authorities on absinthe, DO NOT soak that sugar cube with liquor and then light it on fire. This “Czech Method” is not traditional and was actually started in the late 90s as a spectacle for tourists and to mask inferior spirits. We’re all better than that!
So, go ahead and celebrate the progress we’ve made this last ten years and get acquainted with the Green Fairy! Raise a glass to the magical, herbal delights of this cloudy wonder…without going completely mad! Vive la absinthe!
All photos provided by Rose Callahan, of the Dandy Portrait fame, and our photography partner on the Bartender Style series.